Eight water companies across England and Wales already offer a social tariff on top of the national, mandated WaterSure scheme, and we expect six more to introduce a tariff from April.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I am sure that he would join me in welcoming the announcement by Northumbrian Water in my area. After consultation with customers, it has introduced a social tariff, and it is working with debt charities to support vulnerable people in my area. However, only 25,000 people nationally benefit from social tariffs, so what practical steps is the Minister taking to encourage the scope and availability of social tariffs for vulnerable people?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in this matter. I share his views on what is being achieved to help bill payers in his part of the country. As a Government, we have worked with the industry to look at ways to ensure that bills are affordable for people. The regulator, Ofwat, which has the key lead on this issue, has of course now taken action, and its price review has led to a very good deal for customers. More companies are taking advantage of the option of social tariffs. There will be more this year and more the year after, which will deliver a deal for vulnerable people who need help with their bills.
Is not the big difficulty with water and sewerage bills separating those who cannot pay and need assistance from those who will not pay and need to be pursued? Is not the best way to reduce family water and sewerage bills to increase the spread of metering so that the volume of water consumed is less and the bill total is reduced?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. In areas where there is higher metering, people have perhaps focused more on what they can do to reduce their water usage. We have not seen a case made for compulsory water metering across the country. However, people have the option of talking to their water company about water metering to help to reduce their usage and their bills.