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Water Charging

Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1998

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asked Her Majesty's Government:Whether they will publish a consultation paper following the review of water charging in England and Wales. [HL1354]

My right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions are publishing today water charging proposals. The driving principles behind our policy on water charging are to have a system which provides for fair water charges and gives customers more choice in the way they pay for water. That system has to look after vulnerable customers. It also has to help ensure that water is used efficiently. We propose four key measures:

  • (i) Those who currently pay on an unmeasured basis and use water only for essential domestic purposes should be able to continue to do so in their present home.
  • (ii) We should remove the threat of disconnection from domestic customers.
  • (iii) Domestic customers should have the choice of a meter, free of charge, if it suits their needs.
  • (iv) Targeted help should be available for consumers with special needs.
  • For the foreseeable future, the majority of customers will pay their water charges on an unmeasured basis. We remain firmly of the view that customers should not, in future, be obliged to start paying for water in their present home on a measured basis where they are not using significant amounts of water for non-domestic purposes like garden watering using a sprinkler. To allow this, we propose a change in the law to allow rateable value charging to continue beyond the year 2000.We also propose to remove the powers of water companies to disconnect domestic water supplies in the event of non-payment. This will be particularly reassuring to those who are most vulnerable. Access to water is essential to the maintenance of general good health and well-being, and the water charging arrangements need to reflect that. Of course, water companies are entitled to be paid for the services they provide, but other debt recovery procedures are available to them. Our concern about public health demands that we maintain the flow of water supplies to households in all circumstances.Measured charges may, in the right circumstances, encourage individual customers to use water efficiently. Some consumers, such as single people or pensioners in larger properties, will see an advantage in moving to a measured charging basis for their bills. We propose that in future customers should have the choice to have a meter fitted, free of charge. But those who choose a meter should also have the opportunity to revert to an unmeasured charging basis within a year if metering does not suit their needs.Companies should draw up imaginative new tariffs which increase customer choice. Those should bring benefits to customers who have not previously seen any point in being metered. And tariffs can also be designed to give customers strong incentives to economise on water for discretionary purposes without discouraging essential use. It must be for the companies to take the lead in developing such tariffs, but we look to the regulator to see that they do so. In particular, we see a strong case for ending standing charges for metered customers, which can be a particular problem for people on low incomes with low water use.For new homes, and those substantially altered since 1990, there are no rateable values. We do not believe that any of the unmeasured charging options for these homes are attractive. We therefore propose that metering should continue to be the normal charging method. But we will consider constructive proposals for alternative charging options which consultees wish to put forward, including possible unmeasured options for new houses.A particular concern of this Government is the position of vulnerable customers. So we propose that households on low incomes, particularly large families, and those with special medical needs who live in houses with a metered supply should have the right to opt for a charge based on average use rather than their actual meter reading. This should provide targeted and effective assistance to the groups who could be most disadvantaged as a result of metering.Copies of the Government's consultation paper,

    Water Charging in England and Wales—A New Approach, on which responses have been requested by 14 May, have been placed in the Library of the House.

    Table 1: Government estate: energy efficiency performance

    1

    Energy Expenditure

    2

    £

    Own investment in energy efficiency

    2

    £

    Percentage reduction relative to 1990–91

    3

    (positive figures represent per cent, improvement} Total cost at standard prices adjusted for estate and weather changes

    Civil Departments, including Agencies

    1995–96

    1996–97

    1995–96

    1996–97

    1991–92

    1992–93

    1993–94

    1994–95

    1995–96

    1996–97

    MAFF—"Main estate"41,570,0351,607,392500,000344,000-13-4-21114
    MAFF—Laboratories42,092.0681,195,120330,000124,000-12-19-24-29-256
    Cabinet Office499,165703,573325,0000-14058154
    Culture, Media & Sport1075,41482,8881,0000-7-16
    Customs & Excise3,046.6383,476,954300,00090,50021410142011
    Education and Employment1.464,2301,337,96345,700294,650-2-20-10-15-9-17
    Employment Service7,021,4126,820,6221,132,5240448920
    Environment51,375,9871,228,38187,11637,200813914167
    Environment—HSE6754,812667,458144,56405-4-1-281520
    Enviornment—QEIICC2. 6464.473291,71500-17-16-14-8-6-1
    FCO834,208920,98930,00021,754-37-9-10-14-21
    Health7801,192722,641117,00031,500-130-98-83-54-46
    Home Office2,012,1612,051,87300-8-8-8-7-21
    Home Office—Prisons218,141,74324,257,8261,200,00002-4-3-801
    Inland Revenue9,054,2308,256,246567,744250,000126121616
    International Development9372.396212,935158,0000-4031135
    Lord Chancellor's Department5,889,6805,301,6100003991214
    National Savings1,043,471921,999951,717620,4853812171924
    Northern Ireland11,107,2769,012,943870,000313,00012591310