The consultation published today builds on the findings and recommendations of Anna Walker’s independent review of charging for household water and sewerage services and further analysis by Ofwat on options for tackling high water bills in the South West.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said:
“We know that some households are really struggling with their water bills, particularly in the South West where people are paying the highest bills in the country.
“Our plans will increase the help available for vulnerable households right across England, with special help for people in the South West who, through no fault of their own, are battling astronomical water bills during a difficult economic climate.”
Following the Budget commitment to look at how the Government can help households having trouble paying their water bills and households in areas with particularly high bills, such as the South West, the plans propose several options to help customers.
The proposed reforms include:
- Enhancing WaterSure: This scheme helps vulnerable households who pay for their water via a water meter, by capping their bills at the level of the average bill for their water company. Under the new plans, bills would be capped at the national average metered bill if this is lower than the company’s average, with the cost met by the Government;
- Guidance to introduce company social tariffs: This will provide extra help for those struggling to pay their bills by providing guidance for water companies on the design of tariffs, including which households should benefit, what level of cross-subsidy between households is fair and what concessions should be offered; and
- Help for the South West: Consideration for options that could reduce the bills of all households in the region, alongside targeted assistance for low income households that struggle with their water bills.
Significant investment in infrastructure since privatisation, the rural character of the area and its low population density have made water bills in the South West the highest in the country.
The final policies will be included in the forthcoming Water White Paper.
Notes to editors
The consultation closes on 17 June 2011 and can be viewed here: www.defra.gov.uk/consult/water-affordability-1104/.
The Walker Review was an independent review of charging for household water and sewerage services. It was commissioned by the previous Government and Welsh Ministers to examine the current system of charging and to assess the effectiveness and fairness of current and alternative methods of charging from the economic, social and environmental perspective. It published its final report and recommendations in December 2009.
The WaterSure tariff is prescribed through the Water Industry (Charges) (Vulnerable Groups) Regulations 1999. Currently it caps the bills of metered households in receipt of a qualifying means-tested benefit or tax credit at the average bill for their company’s operating area where the household either has three or more children living at home under the age of 19 or somebody in the household has a medical condition which necessitates a high essential use of water. This year some 31,200 households are benefitting from WaterSure.
The Water White Paper will drive forward the commitment made in the Government’s Coalition Agreement to “examine the conclusions of the Cave and Walker Reviews, and reform the water industry to ensure more efficient use of water and the protection of poorer households”.
Other recommendations from the Walker review will be carried forward as part of Defra’s work on the Water White Paper. A summary of responses to the Water White Paper online survey can be seen here: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/whitepaper/.