§ Mr. Browne
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what arrangements he has made for protecting vulnerable customers under the Water Industry Act 1999. 
§ Mr. Meacher
The Water Industry (Charges) (Vulnerable Groups) Regulations 1999 were made under the Water Industry Act 1999 and laid on 22 December 1999. The regulations offer protection to customers who might face hardship affording their bills because they use large amounts of water for essential purposes and pay on a measured basis. Customers will qualify for assistance if they are in receipt of income related benefits or tax credits (Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Working Families Tax Credit, Disabled Person's Tax420W Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit) and either (a) they have three dependent children under the age of 16; or (b) they have a medical condition requiring significant extra water use (these are defined as kidney failure requiring home dialysis, abdominal stomas, desquamation, weeping skin disease and incontinence).
Customers in these circumstances will be entitled to pay the average charge for the company that supplies them, rather than their actual measured charge. This represents a significant new step to tackle water poverty.
The wording of the 1999 Regulations could have been interpreted as excluding low income customers whose children have qualifying medical conditions. That was not the intention. Therefore the Government have today laid the Water Industry (Charges) (Vulnerable Groups) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 which ensure that low income customers can receive assistance if their children are suffering from a qualifying medical condition. This confirms the Government's commitment to helping families who might face hardship as a result of high essential water use.