Household water bills to rise by 3.5%


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The Independent Online

Households in England and Wales will see water bills increase by an average 3.5 per cent this year, whilst rates in London, Wessex and the South East of the country soar by more than double the rate of inflation.

Figures from the water industry regulator Ofwat show the regions facing the sharpest increases this year include those homes served by Southern water in the south east, where bills are to rise 5,3 per cent to an average £449 from April 1. Thames Water, which supplies 14 million homes in London and the Thames Valley, is to put up bills by 5.5 per cent, putting average bills at £343

Customers cannot choose their supplier so Ofwat, the industry regulator, tells firms how much they can raise prices. Its decision means that households across Britain will see average bills rise 3.5 per cent to hit £388 this year.

The latest water bill increase, on top of a wave of energy price rises from Britain’s big six suppliers, means households now face spending a record £1,740 a year on water, sewerage and energy alone, according to comparison site Uswitch. Families now need to find an extra £107 a year for essential bills.

Ofwat claimed the rise was needed to pay for a £25bn investment programme to improve 140 water treatment works and 4,440 sewage treatment plants, plus work on 10,000 kilometres of mains water. Regina Finn, Ofwat’s chief executive, said: “We understand that there is huge pressure on household incomes and any rise is unwelcome. Inflation is driving these increases.

“These rises will help pay for investment of around £1,000 for every household in England and Wales. This will deliver real benefits — from continuing to improve the reliability of supplies to dealing with the misery of sewer flooding for thousands of customers.”

But the average salary in the UK went up by less than two per cent last year, and even before the latest hike, charity National Debtline said water bill debts had soared. It took 597 calls from Britons worried about debts in 2003, but that rocketed to 19,667 last year.

Dame Yve Buckland, chairwoman of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Water companies are making higher profits than expected and they need to give some of this back to their customers. They can limit their own prices or invest more money into services — they shouldn’t keep it all for shareholders and investors.”

Ann Robinson, of uSwitch, said: “With incomes remaining stagnant, this will be another squeeze on family finances and will no doubt cause sacrifice and hardship for many.” Charity National Debtline warned it took a record number of calls for help with water debts last year. In 2003 it only took 597 calls from Britons needing help on water debts. Last year, that figure had reached 19,667.

Richard Wellings, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, claimed Ofwat had a role in the increase in water bills. “Over-regulation is the main factor driving up prices,” he said. “Ever-increasing environmental and water quality standards, many resulting from EU directives, have forced companies to invest tens of billions in new infrastructure and pass on the cost to consumers. Removing barriers to competition in the water industry would also help consumers.”