Flow restrictors, also known as trickle flow meters, are used in parts of Australia to disrupt a home’s water supply with the aim of inconveniencing non-paying customers into paying their bills.

However, in the UK water companies are not legally allowed to do this and Thames Water wants Parliament to explore the possibility.

The key issue for the firm, which announced a profit of £435.1M earlier this month, is that gas and electric companies have the power to cut supplies to customers who don’t pay.

The group, which provides drinking water for 8.5m customers, also beleive bad debt adds £11-a-year to honest customers’ bills.

David Owens, Thames Water’s chief executive, said: “First things first, no one is going to get cut off.

“We don’t want to cut anyone off, and we’re not allowed to anyway. A law change would be required before water firms could use flow restrictors, so they’re not going to be in action any time soon – if at all.

“Even if they were used, there would be no health implications. These devices would simply reduce flow, not cut it completely.

“We’ve currently got £45m of ‘bad debt’ – in other words, outstanding bills.

“That adds £11-a-year to the bills of honest customers who do pay, and that can’t be right.

“That’s why we’ve asked a group of MPs who are drafting some new legislation to make chasing down non-payers easier for water firms – so it’s fairer for the rest of us.

“One of the things we’ve asked them to consider is restrictors, which are used in some parts of Australia to lessen the flow of water to non-payers in order to inconvenience them into paying.

“We don’t even want to use flow restrictors – and right now we’re unsure how we would use them anyway – but we do think they need looking at as a last resort for customers who are perfectly able to pay but refuse to do so.

“But we’ll leave the final call on this to the MPs whose job it is to decide. And finally, let’s be absolutely clear: we’re after the won’t pays – not the can’t pays.

“If you genuinely can’t pay your bill, we can discuss a range of ways to help you, including financial assistance through our Charitable Trust, a £5m fund set up to help customers in need.”

Luke Walsh

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