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Service Accommodation (Glamorgan)

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2009

The Petition of the residents and former residents of ex-Ministry of Defence service family accommodation on the West Vale estate, and others,

Declares that Brey Services has billed the residents and former residents of ex-MOD service family accommodation on the West Vale estate for sewage/wastewater charges dating from 1 December 2003 to the present day; notes that these properties had not been billed for the provision of sewage/wastewater services since the MOD’s contract with Brey Services began in December 2003; and further declares that this delay has caused great distress to many families who are struggling to find the money to pay the said bills.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of the State for Defence firstly to ensure that these bills are waived on the grounds that an unreasonable amount of time has passed, and secondly to ensure that the party responsible for the delay in issuing the bills settles the sewage accounts for the residents and former residents of the West Vale estate from 1 December 2003 until 2 October 2008.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by John Smith, Official Report, 20 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 460.]

[P000291]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Defence:

At the outset let me say that I understand and sympathise with those who have signed the petition. I can imagine that receiving a bill for utilities provided in past years must have come as a considerable surprise. Nevertheless, this Department does have to seek payment.

That said, I can assure you that we will ensure that any repayment process is affordable to the residents, and does not put them under undue pressure. To this end, BREY Services Ltd already has long-term payment plans in place with a significant number of residents, some making repayment of as little as £10 per month over a six-year period. I would encourage all residents to get in touch with BREY Services Ltd, who have been instructed to act sympathetically to put in place payment plans. The following paragraphs set our position on the billing arrangements.

As part of the Aquatrine Public Private Partnership project, MOD transferred responsibility for the supply of water and wastewater services to the majority of its sites and Service Family Accommodation (SFA) estates in Great Britain to three private sector service providers. Thus, responsibility for properties at West Vale housing estate at MOD St Athan, which consists of both current and former SFA properties, was transferred to BREY Services Ltd on 1 December 2003. BREY now acts as MOD’s billing agent for the recovery of costs from MOD contracted customers, including residents of the West Vale estate.

A water supply failure on the West Vale estate in 2003 led to the water system being separated from that of the MOD base. It was re-provided by Dwr Cymru. This created a direct relationship between Dwr Cymru and the residents (who were responsible for payment). However, MOD continued to be billed for the water supply to civilian properties, as was confirmed by Dwr Cymru in July last year.

Those who bought their homes when the properties were initially sold were advised by the managing agent at the time of the direct billing arrangement with MOD for water services and of a separate private sewer system, discharging to an off-site public sewer maintained by Dwr Cymru. Those who have bought their homes more recently should have been told who provided the water and wastewater services by their agents (as part of the usual searches). For those reasons, it is clear that responsibility for payment in these cases does and should fall to individual householders.

Thus it is, and has been for some years now, clearly the responsibility of the homeowners at West Vale to meet the costs of their water supply. It is equally clear that these costs should not fall to the taxpayer generally. For that reason MOD is seeking to recover sums owed for previous years. The Water Resale Order—which formed part of the Water Industry Act 1991—provides the authority to bill retrospectively up to a limit of six years.

However, as I said at the beginning of this letter we are very conscious of the burden this may place on some residents. That is why, while fulfilling our duty to protect the taxpayer generally, we are ensuring that the arrangements put in place to collect the money owed are as reasonable as possible.