Lords urge action on unpaid water bills

The Government and its regulators are not doing enough to tackle unpaid water bills and accelerate innovation in the water industry, a Lords committee has said.

The Science and Technology Committee believes water companies should be given powers to cut customers off for not paying their bills – a strategy that has proved a “powerful incentive for consumers who are able, but refuse to pay their water bills” in water-poor Australia, it says.

The SCT accuses the Government of complacency on unpaid bills for not taking up the recommendation made in the committee’s Water Management report last June.

Other suggestions, such as looking into compulsory metering in areas of water stress, have successfully fed through to policy consultations, the committee noted.

But for real improvements in water efficiency and leakage rates more needs to be done to separate those customers who can afford to pay water bills but don’t from those who struggle with payments.

Lord Selborne, chairman of sub-committee that dealt with water management, said: “We are disappointed that the Government have failed to take on board so many of our recommendations.

“They have completely failed to grasp the importance of dealing with the high levels of non-payment of water bills as well providing greater help for those in genuine financial difficulties. They must reconsider giving water companies the ability to partially disconnect persistent non-payers.

The committee also called for more R&D spending in the water industry to improve on leakage and water efficiency – again an area where its recommendations are being ignored, this time by regulator Ofwat, it said:

“We welcome Ofwat’s decision to review the methodology determining water company leakage targets, but it is a shame Ofwat has not accepted our suggestions to encourage greater research and development in the water industry.

“If we are to make significant headway in improving water efficiency and reducing the unacceptable level of leaks then Ofwat, as the regulator, should be taking the lead in a transparent and constructive fashion.”

The Science and Technology Committee’s original report on water management can be found here.

Responses to the report from Government, Ofwat and Water UK can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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