Water Poverty and Charges

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2003 Water Service Group Conference
25 February 2003

Conference notes that a recent study of Water Poverty in England and Wales estimates that 19% of households are in water poverty which is defined as the need to spend 3% or more of household disposable income on water bills.

There is also widespread evidence that the level of water bill debt is rising. According to OFWAT the outstanding and written off revenues for unpaid water and sewerage bills was £717 million in 2001/2 and the cost of collecting unpaid bills was in excess of £50 million.

Some water companies assert that the rise in indebtedness is a result of the legal prohibition on disconnection.

There is also concern that the current basis of water charging using the long out of date household rateable values system is in need of reform. Bodies like the New Policy Institute and the National Consumers Council have called for a radical overhaul of water charges, including consideration of the role of metering and water tariffs.

Conference also notes that the Government has announced a review of the water charging system in Northern Ireland.

UNISON is opposed to compulsory metering but the increasing number of water meters in areas affected by water shortages and in new domestic properties, where their installation is compulsory, is further undermining the current water charging regime.

Conference also notes that the Vulnerable Groups Regulations have a very low take up rate.

Conference, recognising the interaction of these factors, instructs the Executive to liaise with UNISON Northern Ireland as appropriate and review the issues arising from the current system of water charges, water poverty and debt, and to report back to the Service Group Conference in 2004 with appropriate recommendations.