UK: Water consumer watchdog slams trade and industry report

Government plans to give consumers more power in United Kingdom markets will not work in the water industry unless specialist expertise is retained and combined with effective powers to resolve consumers' problems, WaterVoice said today...

Oct 26th, 2004

LONDON, Oct. 26, 2004 (GNN) -- Government plans to give consumers more power in United Kingdom markets will not work in the water industry unless specialist expertise is retained and combined with effective powers to resolve consumers' problems, WaterVoice said today.

In its response to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) consultation, extending competitive markets empowered consumers and engendered successful business.

WaterVoice said that the Government's proposals, including a future National Utilities Consumer Council (NUCC), were badly-timed and ill-suited to the needs of water consumers.

Maurice Terry, WaterVoice Council chairman, said: "The water industry operates in practice as a set of regional monopolies. It is characterized by distinct regional variations in such matters as availability of water resources, balance between supply and demand, and the size of the average annual water and sewerage bill. Combining a number of consumer bodies would be expensive and result in a loss of specialist focus on consumer issues in the water industry.

"The timing of the DTI's proposals creates unhelpful uncertainty in setting up the Consumer Council for Water, which is contrary to the best interests of water consumers. The better way forward is to develop and realize the full potential of sharing good practice, and joint working by WaterVoice and the consumer bodies for the other utilities."

The differences in the water sector were recognized by Government in the Water Act 2003 which will turn WaterVoice into a new, independent Consumer Council for Water (CCW), to start operating in October 2005. Under DTI's proposals the CCW could be abolished and merged with other consumer bodies when the NUCC is set up.

Terry added: "The DTI's proposals make even less sense in the light of their further suggestion to take complaints handling away from the consumer bodies and to create new Ombudsmen with powers to resolve complaints. Why not give the existing consumer bodies effective powers to deal with complaints?"

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