Water UK opposes disconnection ban

Brian Duckworth, chairman of water industry body Water UK, has protested against government plans to ban the disconnection of domestic water supplies. Labour proposed the ban during a second reading of the Water Bill in Parliament by Michael Meacher.

Mr Duckworth said: “The proposals will do little or nothing to help vulnerable customers with their bills, or encourage people to use their water wisely.” Disconnections are now declining, with less than 2000 per year in the UK at present, but Mr Duckworth says disconnection is still a valuable tool: “The government is simply restricting the options available to water suppliers to secure payment from customers. Banning disconnection will only encourage the minority who don’t want to pay.”

MPs provided some strong arguments in favour of the ban. For instance, Labour MP Helen Jackson said: “In the year following privatisation, domestic disconnections rose threefold from 7,000 to 21,000 – and in the same year, there was a disturbing increase in the number of cases of dysentery, especially in large conurbations such as Birmingham.”

But Mr Duckworth denied disconnection would leave people at risk: “Water companies do not disconnect customers in vulnerable groups.”

Some water companies have set up charitable trusts to help OAPs who cannot pay, but Mr Meacher said further measures were necessary: “Protection should be available to families with three or more children on benefit, and those with special needs such as skin disorders.”

Of 640 properties disconnected in the current financial year, he said: “More than half had no water supply for more than 48 hours, with a third disconnected for more than four weeks.” This, he said, was “unacceptable.”

Mr Meacher also revealed plans to remove the 2001 deadline for the use of rateable values set by the previous government, which will give customers more time to choose their most cost-effective option.

For a trial period of one year, customers will even be allowed to reject metering if they find that they are worse off.

Mr Duckworth concluded: “This bill sends mixed messages on conservation. Allowing customers to go back on an unmeasured supply is hardly likely to encourage a more responsible use of water.”

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