HC Deb 17 March 1982 vol 20 cc345-6
10. Mr. Allen McKay

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek to amend section 30(5) of the Water Act 1973 to provide that retirement pensioners and those in low income groups are given special consideration.

Mr. Giles Shaw

No, Sir. Water service charges are already taken into account when calculating supplementary benefit. In addition, water authorities will, on request, allow customers to pay by instalments. Several areas operate saving stamp schemes.

Mr. McKay

Does the Minister realise that his reply will be noted outside the House? Is he aware that he has not taken into consideration those who are now appearing before the county courts and that to pay the water rate bailiffs may have entered their homes to take away furniture that they have had for a long time? Does he also realise that, for the first time, the water authorities have imposed a standing charge of £5? Will he now reconsider his answer and at least rid people of this water charge?

Mr. Shaw

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about customers threatened with disconnection, but in the last full year the total number involved in England and Wales was 6, 294, of whom the vast majority were in the Thames water authority area. It is against that background that the hon. Gentleman must recognise that the absolute risk to people is not great. At the same time, the Government have a duty to support the water authorities in the recovery of legitimate charges.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Will my hon. Friend take into account the burning resentment of pensioners, single people and childless couples who live next door to families of five or six, yet they pay exactly the same water rate?

Mr. Shaw

It is, in part, for that reason that consumers are now offered optional metering. The amount of water consumed can then be related to their charges. I suspect that that will help to relieve some of the comparative problems raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Woodall

Is the Minister aware that many pensioners, and widows in particular, have for the first time in their lives received a rate demand for water and sewerage? Some of the widows and pensioners who have written to me have received demands for £80.85, but they cannot pay that sum because they do not have the money. It is no use sending a sympathetic letter stating that they may be allowed to pay by instalments. Widows and pensioners do not have that kind of money. Therfore, will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay)?

Mr. Shaw

I shall not reconsider the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay). I emphasise that in many cases those who find it difficult to pay their water charges can get relief through the DHSS system. We are concerned about payment for a service that they receive, not rate rebate.

Mr. Neale

Will my hon. Friend take into account the annoyance felt by many pensioners in the West Country who are called upon to pay an environmental charge when they have neither water nor sewage facilities connected to their properties, and the fury of commercial ratepayers who are called upon by the water authorities to pay a full rate when they also have neither of those facilities?

Mr. Shaw

I fully understand my hon. Friend's point. Many customers who do not enjoy the full range of facilities resent paying in part for the facilities enjoyed by others. The fact remains that water charges are levied largely upon consumption, partially on the contribution to the supply and partially on the environmental and other aspects that are shared by everyone in any region.