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Water bills set to rise by £94 over next five years

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Water bills in England and Wales are set to rise by an average £94 over the next five years, the water regulator Ofwat has said.

The figure varies by region with Thames customers seeing an increase of £99 or 23%, Anglian £66 or 13% and Southern Water £183, an increase of 44%.

The typical £19 a year increase is a third less than the increase requested by companies and is intended to fund investment for improvements such as replacing leaking pipes and reducing sewage discharges into rivers and seas.

It comes as suppliers face increasing scrutiny over their environmental and financial performance over a number of years.

Labour has pledged a crackdown on the industry, promising consumers higher compensation for sewage failures and the power to hold water executives to account.

The new Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Reed, is meeting water company bosses on Thursday to discuss performance issues and ways of improving it.

The government plans to introduce new measures to ensure that money earmarked for investment and improvements are ringfenced and cannot be diverted to pay salaries or dividends.

Customer panels will have powers to hold directors and executives to account while compensation for customers for failures to hit required standards could be more than doubled.

The crackdown comes at a time of rising consumer anger at pollution but also at a time when some companies – including heavily indebted Thames Water – have asked for leniency due to financial distress.

Ofwat’s proposed bill rises can be challenged by the water firms, with a final determination due at the end of the year.

Ofwat chief executive David Black said its plan marked the “biggest ever” investment in the water sector and would mean “sustained improvement to customer service and the environment at a fair price for customers.”

He told Radio 4’s Today Programme it was “very concerned” about the level of bonuses that the companies are paying.

“That’s why we have introduced new measures to protect customers. In the last year, no customer paid for executive bonuses.”

The UK’s biggest water firm, Thames Water, is being put under fresh scrutiny by the regulator, with a new “oversight regime” to make sure the company improves its performance.

Ofwat said Thames Water must provide a “delivery action plan” and regularly report on progress, assessed by a third party.

The regulator said it was considering appointing an independent monitor to report on the company’s progress.

‘High levels of pollution’

Dave Wallace

Dave Wallace has stopped swimming in the Thames at Henley

Dave Wallace is a citizen scientist who has been testing the water in the River Thames where he lives in Henley.

“We started last year with our testing after some kids got ill,” he said.

“Also I’d been swimming and found myself swimming in what I’d describe as solids and started wondering what on earth is going on.

“We’ve actually found high levels of pollution and found very high levels of ecoli on the river.

“I’ve stopped swimming because we know people are getting sick from going in the river.”

He said there had been reports of an increase in sickness and diarrhoea as well as people getting infected sores and contracting sepsis.

“It’s not just people but dogs as well there’s lots of reports of dogs getting ill from going in the water,” he said.

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