TWO independent businesses in Winchester have been left "seriously concerned" after receiving a water bill for thousands of pounds – despite having just two taps, two toilets and a small coffee machine between them.

Hayward Guitars, the city centre's only music store, and skateboarding shop Beans and Boards, are next door to each other in Stockbridge Road, and have shared a water bill for nearly three years.

But in recent months, the bills have significantly risen from the average of around £50 per quarter. One was asking for more than £3,000.

Now, retailers Business Stream have sent a letter demanding £5,489, claiming the water meter "recorded a large and uncharacteristic increase in water consumption for a period of time before returning to a normal level".

Brian Hayward, who opened his store 19 years ago, said: "When this sort of thing happens, you expect them to realise their mistake and get it sorted straight away. But it's been a bad experience.

"I've been to different customer complaint departments; one investigation is still on hold, and the other ended in telling us we had to pay the bill – a good insight into how this company communicates.

"They're based in Scotland, so they won't send anyone down and actually see how unrealistic the bill is. It's a shame they don't have a common sense department – I shouldn't be spending days sending emails, I should be working!"

The 57-year-old added: "It's not like it's a few quid we can cough up. This could be the end – at my age, I might well have to jack it in. I'm established here, and after all the recessions I've faced in the last few years, this is not the way I want to go.

"It really gets you down, because this is the last thing I should be worried about. It's either the bill or the court fees."

Mr Hayward called in a plumber to check for leaks or any other faults, but was told the system is sound, and that it is "impossible" for the two companies to use more than £5,000 worth of water.

Co-founder of Beans and Boards, Jack Vear, is worried about how the bill could affect the future of his store, which he has run since opening in 2016 with Kyle Judge.

The 25-year-old said: "Well if we have to pay it's going to affect us massively. We are still a growing business, and having to pay out could really stump us.

"We've got enough to worry about without this, and your outgoings should just be a thing that happens. But it's completely mucked it up. It's always in the back of our mind, so hopefully we can get this sorted."

The two stores are yet to hear back from Business Stream, but Jo Mayes, director of customer operations, told the Chronicle: "We are truly sorry it is taking longer than we anticipated to resolve but we are working hard to identify the cause of this spike, including analysing meter readings for the entire premises and running an accuracy check on the water meter to ensure its working correctly.

"While we undergo these investigations we have put the account on hold and we will continue to work closely with Mr Hayward until the matter is solved."