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Social Tariff (Water Companies)

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 11 December 2014

Eight water companies in England and Wales offer a social tariff on top of the nationally mandated WaterSure scheme. Several more are in dialogue with their customers about introducing a social tariff next year.

I welcome Northumbrian Water’s WaterSure tariff initiative to help low-income families, and I applaud its work with the StepChange debt charity and the award winning Know Your Money in Middlesbrough, but only six water companies are currently offering a social tariff to struggling customers, helping just over 25,000 people in total. What steps is the Minister taking to reduce regional disparities in support and end this postcode lottery?

The important point to note about tariffs is that they are funded within water company areas. As money comes from those areas, it is important that water companies discuss with their customers what the right level of support is, as there are different situations in different areas. The number of schemes is expanding. I, too, welcome what is happening in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the country. Northumbrian Water has worked hard to address these issues with its customers to ensure that it can take forward a scheme that works in its area.

Many of us in Yorkshire want not only a social tariff, but a social conscience. Yorkshire Water is owned by a Singapore investment trust, our electricity is owned by the Germans and our gas by the Chinese. Foreign companies, such as Lidl and Aldi, do not seem to have the same corporate social responsibility and social conscience as other companies. What is the Minister doing about foreign-owned utilities, such as Yorkshire Water, that do not have as much of a social conscience?

We have a strong regulatory system that looks at not just the value for money and investment that companies offer customers, but the transparency of their business models and how they operate. Yorkshire Water, for example, has a good debt management programme to help people who have in the past struggled to pay their bills. We are making progress on a whole range of issues, and I welcome the fact that companies are upping their game.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) pointed out, rising water bills are adding to the cost of living crisis. With one in five customers struggling to pay, but only six water companies currently offering support to little more than 25,000 customers, will the Minister acknowledge that he needs to get to grips with this problem by adopting Labour’s national affordability scheme to end the current postcode lottery to which my hon. Friend referred, and to ensure that hard-pressed consumers get the support they need wherever they live?

Since last year, water companies have been able to introduce schemes and they are doing so, but it is important that they take their customers with them and look at what works in their area. The schemes are not funded on a national basis. As I understand it, the Labour party’s proposal would not be funded on a national basis either, but in water company areas. It is important to look at the situation in each area.