Why are water bills rising more in some areas?

Jennifer Harbie
BBC news

Image Source, Getty Images
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Experts say there are large regional differences in the number of people receiving support.

The cost of living crisis has led to a sharp increase in fuel and energy bills, but water users in some parts of the country have also noticed an increase in their bills. BBC News asks what is behind this.

Which water companies have seen higher rises?

From 11 water and sewer companies in England and Walescustomers of Northumbrian Water (10.8%) and Severn Trent (7.1%) showed the highest average ticket growth.

Clients of some other companies have indeed seen average bills drop.

How have customers responded to these changes?

Customers have expressed anger.

Steve Wyllie of Sherwood, Nottingham is served by Severn Trent Water, which has the second highest average height in the country. He said the increase was “unfair”.

“The cost of living is currently rising all the time. The bills seem to be going up and the National Insurance keeps going up,” he said.

“Now people will struggle to heat their homes. It makes me very angry, very angry.”

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Steve Wyllie said he was mad at the height

MPs also criticized the increase, with Ashfield’s Lee Anderson saying: “I understand the argument that they have additional spending, but a 7% increase when it’s around 3-4% elsewhere in the country – they really need to look at it. again.”

What is the reason for the increase?

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Vodokanals are also responsible for the environment.

According to regulator Ofwat, the main reason is inflation.

All water companies have the ability to increase bills in line with inflation. As a result, some bills increase significantly due to rising inflation.

However, some water companies have also been allowed to charge their customers higher fees.

The companies operate on a five-year business cycle, the last of which runs until 2025, when Ofwat approves the services they will provide and the amount they will charge for them.

Review by the Competition and Marketing Authority (CMA) approved some investments that Ofwat initially ruled out.

This means that four companies – Anglian, Bristol, Northumbrian and Yorkshire – have changed their price controls.

Are customers paying for environmental disadvantages?

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Activists concerned about the impact of wastewater discharges on many rivers

According to the Consumer Council of Water (CCW), consumers currently do not bear the costs of fines imposed on water companies due to non-compliance with standards.

This means that when companies like Severn Trent are fined £1.5m for dumping wastewater, it eats into their profits rather than adding to their bills.

However, clients end up funding the costs of improving standards, and problems faced in different regions play a role in the discrepancies in the bills.

Environment Minister George Eustis said concerns about water companies dumping raw sewage into rivers are likely to be factored into the next negotiations in 2025, with customers ultimately paying the bill.

He told the BBC: “The truth is you can’t make the kind of investment we need to improve sewer infrastructure without paying somewhere.

“That’s why we’re making the decision not to fix all the flash floods overnight because it could cost several hundred billion pounds and that would be a very, very dramatic increase in water bills.

“But we are taking a pragmatic approach that reduces the most dangerous flash floods, and there will be costs involved.

“In the end, you have to pay for everything somehow.

“And if you’re going to make it your goal to reduce the amount of wastewater entering the water, building that kind of infrastructure will come at a cost.”

How high were the bills to start with?

While Northumbrian Water and Severn Trent saw the highest growth in 2022/23, their average bills of £365 and £389 respectively remain lower than other parts of the country.

Average bills in Cornwall, Devon and parts of Somerset and Dorset served by South West Water were £472.

Customers in this region receive a government discount due to the region’s long coastline and the amount of bathing water that needs maintenance.

Users of Wessex Water, which also supplies water to Somerset and Dorset as well as Bristol and Wiltshire, saw an average bill of £470.

Experts say the wide variation in the scores is due to factors such as population dispersal (dense urban areas tend to be cheaper) and the region’s length of coastline.

South West Water said, “Providing our service over a large geographic area, which includes about a third of the country’s bathing water, means we need more treatment facilities and thousands of miles of pipe.”

A spokesman for Wessex Water said: “Bills in the region are slightly higher than in other parts of the country because there are more pipes to service per customer and the cost of transporting water across our region is high.”

What assistance do households receive?

Image Source, Andrew White
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Andrew White said that the current support system is a zip code lottery.

While the water industry has said it stands by anyone trying to pay their bills, consumers fear that this too lacks standardization.

CCW, a consumer advocacy organization, said the percentage of households receiving support varies greatly by region.

It says the problem is particularly acute in regions such as the Northwest, where 12% of households need support, but only about 3% of households currently receive such assistance.

In the Severn Trent region, he says, only about 21% of those facing water shortages have been spared water thanks to ongoing support schemes.

Schemes vary across the country depending on the arrangements companies make with their clients whose accounts fund such support.

CCW Senior Policy Manager Andrew White said: “This is a big issue for us and we have laid out a number of different recommendations to replace the current postcode support lottery.

“Water is often one of the first unpaid bills because you can’t be turned off by the supply. But there are also many families suffering in silence, who pay their water bills but sacrifice other bills like food. “

Christine McGourty, CEO of Water UK, the trade association representing water companies, said: “I encourage anyone who is interested to get in touch with their water company.”

What do the water utilities say?

Image Source, Northumbrian water
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Northumbrian Water said it is working on a number of improvements.

Both Severn Trent and Northumbrian Water said that despite experiencing the highest growth, the amount they charge is still lower than average bills in other parts of the country.

Northumbrian Water said: “Our bills remain the lowest in England for water and sewer and still less than what our customers paid for water in 2019/2020.”

They said they are working on a number of projects in the North East to improve the company’s environmental performance, such as spending £30m on sewer improvements in County Durham and a study on the quality of bathing water at Marsden Beach in South Tyneside.

They said they also spent £145m on the supply chain in County Durham and Teesside, replacing sites that are over 100 years old.

Northumbrian Water chief executive Heidi Mottram said: “These necessary investments, together with the rising costs of inflation, mean we need to raise our prices slightly.”

A spokesman for Severn Trent said: “The recent change in customer billing is due to inflation reflecting the rising cost of living we are seeing across our entire supply chain.

“It also affects the level of investment we make in our infrastructure and environment.”

Will the government intervene?

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Nadya Wittom urges water companies to return to state ownership

Nadia Whittom, Labor MP for Nottingham East, called for the return of private companies to public ownership.

“Water has a monopoly, which means people have no choice who will be their water supplier. Companies like Severn Trent can take as much as they want, and privatization is actually costing us more money,” she said.

But so far the government has been lukewarm about such proposals.

The rising bills, he said, were in line with income controls set by Ofwat.

Regarding water poverty, CCW hopes to get government support for a single water bill relief scheme that standardizes support.

But that may not happen until 2025, and campaigners say many clients need help now.

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