The Ombudsman has taken up the case of an expatriate family that filed a complaint with his office because they were overcharged on their utility bills.

Like some 5,000 expatriates, the members of the MacRae family say they are paying almost double for water and electricity consumption because they are being charged ‘domestic’ instead of ‘residential’ rates.

Domestic rates apply to residences that serve as a second home. The reason tenants are in this predicament is because landlords often do not endorse form H provided by ARMS Ltd without which tenants are not able to avail themselves of a residential tariff.

“We are a family of five living in our primary residence and I find it appalling we were overcharged. How was I supposed to know that there was a two-tier tariff if in Britain there is one rate for everyone,” Johanna MacRae told Times of Malta.

She initially resorted to the Auditor General, asking him to conduct an audit of ARMS’ accounts with consumptions that belie the “zero residents” shown on domestic rate bills for a second home. But she said her request was refused.

This billing system is causing untold misery, hardship and distress. It encourages corruption

Her appeal to Ombudsman Joseph Said Pullicino did not fall on deaf ears and his office confirmed the case was now being investigated.

“This billing system is causing untold misery, hardship and distress. It encourages corruption, tax evasion and even violence. When some tenants have confronted their landlords with this scam, their landlords have turned nasty,” Ms MacRae said, adding that tax-evading landlords felt they could act with impunity.

The lobby group, Up In Arms, protested at St George’s Square, Valletta, last month urging its 5,000 plus members to pay only residential rates, saying the two tier tariff was illegal under EU law.

Up In Arms has been campaigning for four years to redress the situation.

Last November, the group was assured by Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi that all consumers would be treated as Maltese nationals with no differentiation in power and electricity tariffs. However, the situation remains unchanged.