UK consumer advocate: Paying for water - If you can't do better, do it differently

Government and water industry regulators must think radically to ensure that future water and sewerage maintenance and improvements can take place without burning a hole in customers' pockets, according to the United Kingdom consumer advocate organization WaterVoice...

LONDON, Dec. 7, 2004 (GNN) -- Government and water industry regulators must think radically to ensure that future water and sewerage maintenance and improvements can take place without burning a hole in customers' pockets, according to the United Kingdom consumer advocate organization WaterVoice.

Maurice Terry, WaterVoice chairman, speaking at The Economist's 15th Annual Water Industry Conference in London, challenged the Government to:
* Introduce an effective package of help for low-income customers, using the tax credits and benefits system, to soften the impact of an average 18% rise in water and sewerage bills to take effect from April 2005;
* Consider better and more widely acceptable ways of funding environmental improvements, including general taxation and adopting a 'polluter pays' approach.

Terry said: "We have previously urged the Government to act, through the tax credits and benefits system, to help low income customers pay their water and sewerage bills. The Government has responded by announcing a completely inadequate package of measures that fails to address the real problems of water affordability. Together with other consumer groups, we will continue to press the Government to face up to its responsibilities on this issue.

"But there is a wider debate about fairness and equity in funding environmental improvements. We believe that the bill should be shared between everyone who benefits, and not funded exclusively, as now, by water customers."

He added: "Investment in coastal and inland waters, which are part of national assets such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Parks, should come from the taxpayer. General taxation has a broader base, and is part of a system directly linked to the ability to pay.

"Water customers should also not have to meet the costs of highway drainage -- the proper responsibility of highway authorities. Neither should they have to pay for removing pollutants such as nitrates and pesticides at the drinking water treatment stage. Those who pollute the environment should pay the clean-up costs."

WaterVoice (www.watervoice.org.uk) views on funding environmental improvement have gained support from the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which published its Water pricing: follow-up report last Wednesday (Dec. 1). One of the Committee's main findings was that 'Government must do more to address the causes of water pollution and flooding and that, where these are not the responsibility of water companies, water customers should not pay for the solutions'.

SOURCE: Government News Network

###

More in Environmental