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Water Charges

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 15th January 2009.

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Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:30 am, 15th January 2009

What recent discussions he has had with Ofwat on water prices.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I met the chairman and chief executive of Ofwat on 16 December to discuss the 2009 review of water price limits, covering the period 2010 to 2015.

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Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, and I note the response about clubs that his Minister gave earlier. However, I would like to ask what the Government are doing to reduce the burden of water bills on domestic households by tackling other factors that affect the price of water, such as the non-payment of bills, which leads to those who do pay their bills subsidising those who do not.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That was one of the issues that I discussed in the meeting to which I referred. It is important that water companies are able to collect the payments that are due, recognising that in the current economic circumstances some people have genuine difficulty in paying their bills. I attach particular importance, as does Ofwat, in taking final decisions about the price review and its impact on bills between 2010 and 2015, to the question of affordability. Like many things in life, it is a question of balance, as it is also necessary to take further action on reducing leakage and improving some environmental problems, particularly those relating to the Thames area, United Utilities and some other parts of the country.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

What recent representations he has received on the rate at which charges for water are applied to schools, churches and voluntary organisations; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

The Secretary of State has received a range of representations from various groups regarding surface water drainage charges. As I said in response to an earlier question, the Government are aware of the issue of affordability raised by the switch to site area charging, and we are actively considering what can be done.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply—obviously, I heard the exchange on Question 3, asked by my hon. Friend Dr. Iddon. Strong representations are being made and it would be good to hear whether they are reaching the Minister's door. The problem has been around for 10 years—I read a debate from 1999 in which the current Home Secretary raised the issue of the potential fallout from changes in water charges. Is it not about time that we told Ofwat that its proposals are wrong, and that organisations should be properly protected from such excessive increases?

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Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Marine and Natural Environment)

My hon. Friend is right that the issue has been around for some time. I reiterated earlier the advice that the former Secretary of State gave in 2000, which is important to note. I reassure my hon. Friend that we will not leave the issue lying. We are aware of the concerns, and the Secretary of State and I are actively considering what can be done.

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