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Water Charges

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

I met the chairman and chief executive of Ofwat on 16 December to discuss the 2009 review of water price limits, covering the period 2010 to 2015.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, and I note the response about clubs that his Minister gave earlier. However, I would like to ask what the Government are doing to reduce the burden of water bills on domestic households by tackling other factors that affect the price of water, such as the non-payment of bills, which leads to those who do pay their bills subsidising those who do not.

That was one of the issues that I discussed in the meeting to which I referred. It is important that water companies are able to collect the payments that are due, recognising that in the current economic circumstances some people have genuine difficulty in paying their bills. I attach particular importance, as does Ofwat, in taking final decisions about the price review and its impact on bills between 2010 and 2015, to the question of affordability. Like many things in life, it is a question of balance, as it is also necessary to take further action on reducing leakage and improving some environmental problems, particularly those relating to the Thames area, United Utilities and some other parts of the country.

7. What recent representations he has received on the rate at which charges for water are applied to schools, churches and voluntary organisations; and if he will make a statement. (247634)

The Secretary of State has received a range of representations from various groups regarding surface water drainage charges. As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government are aware of the issue of affordability raised by the switch to site area charging, and we are actively considering what can be done.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply—obviously, I heard the exchange on Question 3, asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). Strong representations are being made and it would be good to hear whether they are reaching the Minister’s door. The problem has been around for 10 years—I read a debate from 1999 in which the current Home Secretary raised the issue of the potential fallout from changes in water charges. Is it not about time that we told Ofwat that its proposals are wrong, and that organisations should be properly protected from such excessive increases?

My hon. Friend is right that the issue has been around for some time. I reiterated earlier the advice that the former Secretary of State gave in 2000, which is important to note. I reassure my hon. Friend that we will not leave the issue lying. We are aware of the concerns, and the Secretary of State and I are actively considering what can be done.