HC Deb 25 June 1997 vol 296 c516W
Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has for further consultation on future policy relating to water charges; and if he will make a statement. [5091]

Mr. Meacher

As the Deputy Prime Minister announced at the Water Summit, the Government is to review the system of charging for water in England and Wales. I am launching that review today. The purpose of the review is to ensure that we have a fair and sustainable system of charging for water and sewerage services.

The review will be conducted jointly by my Department and the Welsh Office, in consultation with the Office of Water Services. My Department will be writing today to interested bodies with details of the main issues which the review will address and inviting their representations. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

There is public concern about the system of charging for water. Water and sewerage services have to be paid for, but customers are entitled to expect that the basis on which their charges are levied is a fair one. The method of charging should have the support of customers as well as water companies.

The review will look at the various methods of charging for mains water and sewerage services, including both unmeasured and measured systems. Under Section 145 of the Water Industry Act 1991, water companies must not base their charges on rateable values after 31 March 2000. The review will consider the future use of rateable values and other possible bases for unmeasured charges, such as the use of council tax bands. It will also consider debt recovery arrangements.

We have made clear our opposition to compulsory metering for essential household use of water. We will also want to look very carefully at the issues of disconnection and the use of budget payment meters for household water supplies: no one should be deprived of water because of inability to pay for it. We will consider these issues in the review. But we do want to have views from all the interested parties before we bring forward proposals for changes in the present regime.

The overall level of water charges and the system of price limits set by the water regulator will not be considered in this review.