UK water watchdog unhappy with consumer price increases

WaterVoice Wales is continuing its round of meetings all over Wales and the border counties, to give customers of Welsh Water and Dee Valley Water the opportunity of hearing directly from company representatives on the large proposed increases in bills next year...

LONDON, Sept. 16, 2004 (GNN) -- WaterVoice Wales is continuing its round of meetings all over Wales and the border counties, to give customers of Welsh Water and Dee Valley Water the opportunity of hearing directly from company representatives on the large proposed increases in bills next year.

The proposed 2005 increases are 13.2 % for Welsh Water -- six times inflation -- and 4.3% plus inflation for Dee Valley Water.

It is particularly appropriate that the next meeting is in Chester, where there are significant sewage flooding issues, and local customers will be anxious to know that their concerns are being taken into account within these major price increases. The meeting takes place at 9:30 a.m., Sept. 23, at the Ramada Hotel, Whitchurch Road, Christleton, Chester, and is open to the public. It will begin with a 'listening session' during which customers can ask questions about any aspect of water and sewerage issues, including the proposed price increases.

Ofwat, the British agency responsible for water utility oversight, published its draft decisions for price limits from 2005 -- 10 last month -- and will make its final decision on Dec. 2.

WaterVoice Wales is urging customers to use this opportunity to express their views to the water companies, to Ofwat and to the Welsh Assembly Government.

Dr John Ford, WaterVoice Wales chairman, said: "We believe customers will be dismayed by Ofwat's proposals and by the Government's apparent failure to take account of customers' views in determining the scale of the future environmental program required for the region.

"Customers in Wales already have high charges. It now seems that they face the prospect of further double-digit increases."

Dr. Ford added: "We will study Ofwat's proposals carefully at our meeting and would also like customers to come along and have their say."

Independent market research* commissioned jointly by WaterVoice, the government, Ofwat, the quality regulators and the water industry showed that an overwhelming 88% of customers are not prepared to see prices increase by more than 5 British pounds. This customer view is being ignored.

Dr. Ford said: "In October 2003, Welsh Water was proposing a 2005 increase of 9.4%. After 10 months of scrutiny by Ofwat and with Government issuing 'ministerial guidance' that price increases must be affordable, the proposed increase is now 13.2%. Customers are likely to be baffled and angry."

He added: "The key issue for the regulator and for Government is the question of affordability. Such big increases are clearly not affordable for households on low and fixed incomes. Government and its agencies have taken decisions which account for around half of the increase. So Government has a responsibility for more effective means of financial support in line with its own stated policy of using tax credit and benefit systems to help the less well off."

The Welsh Assembly Government is due to give Ofwat further 'ministerial guidance' in September. The closing date for comments to the regulator, Ofwat, is 13 October. To have any effect, customers must make their voices heard before then -- to Ofwat and to their MPs and AMs .

NOTES:
1. Mori Research Study: 'The 2004 Periodic Review: Research into Customers' Views' conducted for WaterVoice, Ofwat, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Welsh Assembly Government, Water UK, Environment Agency, Drinking Water Inspectorate, English Nature and Wildlife & Countryside Link and published in November 2002.

2. WaterVoice (www.watervoice.org.uk) provides a strong and independent voice for all customers of the water and sewerage companies in England and Wales.

3. WaterVoice operates through nine regional committees in England and a committee for Wales. They represent the interests of customers in respect of price, service and value for money; they also investigate complaints from customers about their water company.

4. The 10 WaterVoice committee Chairmen form the WaterVoice Council. The WaterVoice Council and its sub-groups deal with issues at national and European level.

5. WaterVoice Wales is the statutory Ofwat Customer Service Committee for Wales, established under the Water Industry Act 1991, responsible for representing the interests of customers of Dwr Cymru / Welsh Water and Dee Valley Water.

6. The WaterVoice Annual Report 2003-04 and Program for 2003-04 to 2004-05 are available free of charge from the Ofwat Library or on the web: www.watervoice.org.uk

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