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How could a greater choice of water suppliers benefit you?

water from tap

Ofwat, the regulator of the water and wastewater sector in England and Wales, has published its review of the options for developing greater competition in the household water market. How does the Ofwat report lead to a benefit for you?

So what does this mean? Could we end up with five different taps in our sinks, or even one that provides sparkling water? Well, no, this is strictly about retail competition, ie, which company you pay your household water bill to and what extra services it could provide.

Ofwat and the government recognise there is largely a natural monopoly in water networks (the pipes that get water to you), so you needn’t worry that your streets are about to be dug up to lay different water suppliers’ pipes either.

Our response to the Ofwat report

Ofwat’s findings were mixed and, in some cases, unfairly ridiculed, in my opinion.

The first question most of us want to know is: ‘How much can I save on my water bill?’ Well, Ofwat’s analysis points towards a top-end saving of £8.

While this is rather modest, Ofwat has suggested that opening up the water market to greater competition would drive innovation and new ideas. And in my view, that’s where you’d see the most benefit.

What if one company could provide you with water, gas and electricity, so you’d only have to make one phone call to sort all your bills? How about an app to help you manage your account? Currently, only two of the monopoly water companies offer their customers an app, as Ofwat’s CEO Cathryn Ross pointed out on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

And as the latest figures from the Consumer Council for Water, which were published on Wednesday, show that complaints to water companies are on the increase, could a competitive market lead water companies to focus more on their customer service?

While water competition on its own doesn’t sound like an attractive deal for consumers, when you start to think about the new innovations, I wonder if it becomes more so?

Role of government

Ofwat has presented its report to the government, which must now look at it and make a decision as to whether it is worth developing greater competition in household water and wastewater services. This would put it in line with non-household customers who are due to get the choice of water suppliers from April 2017.

When the government makes its decision, it should weigh up the overall costs to customers and assess the overall outcomes for customers against those.

What do you think – would competition in the water sector make a splash, or sink like a stone?

Comments
Guest
M J Davis says:
25 September 2016

My water company has admitted that their IT system is not fit for purpose and they have difficulty when I change bank accounts. This is because they have no competition. All shares in the company are owned by a pension fund in California. The regulator is far too soft and the profits are big and secure. The companies should be publicly owned not for profit organisation.

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That M J Davis is a major point English water is owned by foreigners . While some may say the US arent foreigners thats how they view us. In any case you have only to look at Scotland for an entirely different political / social,policy . Scottish Water operates under the -Water Services ( Scotland ) Act – 2005 and the Water Industry Commission for Scotland . It was founded in 2002 by an Act of the Scottish Parliament — because 100 % of it is owned by the Scottish Government it is considered a statutory corporation . Emotions ran high in Scotland as to the ownership of water it is such a life giving , vital thing that the Scots were “up in arms ” at foreigners owning their water . As M J Davis says — the companies should be publically owned , I agree , why should political dogma stop the English public owning its own water ?

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I have no territorial concerns about the temporary ownership of our water; it all comes from rain that falls over England . I also have no objections to our sewage being in the hands of foreigners – in fact, I recommend it.

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This raises some interesting possibilities. As in energy, there is no reason why our water should not be bought, marketed and sold by companies that have no experience of treating and supplying water and disposing of waste water; they would leave all that difficult stuff to the existing water companies who could even come out of the customer supply business altogether and concentrate on the production, distribution and disposal side. Residents could have a choice of Tesco Water, Waitrose Water, or Amazon Water, etc. The product would be the same but the customer service would differ. Competitive pricing would depend on which water supply companies could amass a sufficient customer base to enable them to procure the greatest volume of water at the lowest price from the water producers.

One drawback is that there is not a national water network and there are big differences in the storage and distribution costs across the regions so it would be difficult for the supply companies to spread the economies of scale or the benefits of greater volumes of water from one part of the country to another. With electricity, for example, a company focussing on green energy can feed in any amount of its green electricity at one end of the UK [Scotland, perhaps] knowing that an equivalent wattage of electricity can be consumed anywhere else in the UK. This would not be possible with the present water networks and all feed-ins in one region would have to be matched by an equivalent consumption within the same region. That is not as efficient and could inhibit competition.

And who would decide on hosepipe bans? And what effect would they have on the economics of the supply companies? At present, with vertically integrated production, distribution and disposal operations, any loss of supply volumes due to water restrictions are contained within the overall cost profiles spread across very large regions.

There are at the moment a number of independent water supply companies operating in various towns or geographical areas with protected monopolies. They don’t generally deal with waste water which is the responsibility of the regional water company. However, I could foresee such local companies being wiped out by the new ‘national’ water supply companies. There would need to be some controls built in to ensure that residents in those areas were not left high-&-dry in the event that the local companies lost so many customers that they could not carry on trading. It would be necessary to ensure that another production company was able to take over their reservoirs, treatment plant and water mains in order to maintain continuity of supply.

I think the costs of marketing water, managing switching, and the usual salami-slicing of tariffs and bundles, would add costs into the equation that are not there at the moment.

Sometimes things are best left undisturbed.

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From the Which? Press Office 19 Sept.
“Alex Neill, Which? Director of Policy and Campaigns, said:

“Giving people a choice over who supplies their water could lead to a better experience for consumers but any plan to open up the water market must learn the lessons of other utility markets. The Government should now consider whether a competitive water market would deliver better outcomes for customers.”

I have some difficulty understanding how real competition could develop without a national grid of water supply, let alone water treatment. With electricity we have a national network of supply wires, into which anyone can feed a supply, either directly or through an existing generator. But how would it work for water?

Given the apparent stickiness of consumers in not taking advantage of better energy deals, just how much effort are they going to make on their much lower water bills?

A “better experience for the consumer” sounds just like those vacuous marketing ploys; just what does it mean? If we mean cheaper bills, and explain how, then lets say so. Otherwise…..?

Guest

If you are a one person or two person family the answer is change to a water meter. I am with Welsh Water/Dwr Cymru and I changed along with a few neighbours about 5 months ago, my water bill has reduced from £60 per month [standard payment] to £40 per month and has now further reduced to £25 per month and that is standard everyday use. the installation of the new water meter was free. Got to be a consideration if there is just a few of you at home.

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Guest

Excellent comments from John Ward, perhaps he should replace OFWAT as he seems to talk more sense.
However, I don’t quite agree with the view of leaving the current status quo as is. The electricity/gas market is not a panacea and lack of engagement of the masses to switch does not help. Even so, the water industry is falling behind expectations today, and the fact so many water companies are owned by non-UK entities shows there is money in water.
There is a lot to sort out and ideally a national water network would be an outcome. A modern society should have the means to distribute life sustaining water from where it is plentiful to where it is most needed. After all there are plenty of ancient civilisations that managed it.

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So lets get this straight – you are all against a national . government controlled water supply ? You are quite happy foreign countries and in some cases ( France ) owning parts of British Utilities ? But you are unhappy that Water has not been universally sold off in Britain –those dastardly Scots always “bucking the privatisation system ” . Do none of you remember that the government has already thought of that and —announced it would (in modern terms ) cost what the Trident renewal would cost—and MORE ! The logistics are enormous , it was “knocked back ” . This is interesting – I would like to hear from the 99 % of the English public if they agree with this and that I am the only one not happy with the present situation.

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I don’t think a nationalised water industry is on offer, Duncan. And England and Wales have never had a unified state controlled water service. When the regional water authorities were set up [some time before they were sold off to the public] they took over hundreds of municipal and independent undertakings which were often poorly managed and not very advanced technologically. There was a backlog of maintenance and investment requirements and in some areas the quality of the water was dubious and the state of the beaches appalling because of raw sewage outfalls. Whatever we might think of the current private water companies [and they are not all foreign-owned] they have at least led to substantial improvements in water supply and sewage treatment. Nevertheless, not all is right: there are major price disparities across the country and the companies are too remote from their customers and obstructionist in their attitude [perhaps with good reason, but they need to explain themselves and not take advantage of their monopoly position].

I don’t think the question of of the water industry becoming a nationalised industry has ever arisen and i doubt there is any chance of it now. Personally I think it would be the worst possible outcome.

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What really bothers me John is that we are talking about rain that comes down from the sky that is vital to keeping us alive and to think that our life is in the hands of overseas investment companies doesnt bring “joy to my heart ” . If nationalisation is out of the question then ,at the very least .WE the public should have our water supplied by an English company . Wasnt that one of the reasons for a majority Brexit vote ? , no longer controlled by the EU and the chance for more British industry to be set up. Its bad enough that large areas of Wales and Scotland are owned by overseas pension funds or investment bankers or their clients , this has hampered companies like BT from gaining access to land in North Wales to lay cable and poles and even cabinets . The Scottish government has recognised this and is drafting and bringing out legislation to force the landowners to reveal themselves , in a form of a Scotland Act, it is being vigorously opposed by absentee land owners. This country doesnt belong to us any more its owned more and more by non- British citizens , its time we took it back . The American government isnt stupid they legally own the land under the feet of any US landowner so that any minerals/ oil/gas etc is directly under the control of the US government not those with property on the land. If they refuse to sell the government can compulsory offer a small amount of compensation and take it anyway chucking off the so called US landowner so foreigners never really own American land although , amazingly Britain holds ownership/control of many US businesses that sit on US land . Many US farmers have lost their land to massive US government backed oil/gas companies.

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I sympathise with your point of view, Duncan, but we are where we are. I think it would be impossible to turn the clock back now. Surely, one of the chief points made by the Leave campaign was that the UK would have no difficulty in forming trading relationships with countries around the world because of our open outlook towards inwards investment. What does it say about a country that has pension funds from California and Canada queuing up to buy stakes in our utilities? The Brexiteers consider that a tribute and a sure sign of a prosperous future.

So far, under the private and public limited companies that operate our water and waste water services, there has been security of supply, very few water quality breaches, fewer burst water mains, and far less sewage pollution. The last major water contamination incident was at Camelford in 1988 in the region of the South West Water Authority [a public service organisation, not then a private company]. Yorkshire Water had a serious E.coli outbreak near Doncaster last year but such events are now uncommon and the company dealt with it capably and expeditiously. Yorkshire Water also suffered a water shortage emergency over twenty years ago because of drought conditions in the west of its region and had to ship water in tankers to meet demand; the company has subsequently built an east-west pipeline to balance reserves in the event of a future water shortage. I question whether a nationalised industry structure would have dealt with such an emergency proficiently and found the capital required for a long-term solution.

Utilities are reliable if unspectacular investments which is why they appeal to pension funds and other long-term investors. Their dividend yields are normally around 4% which is not a great return on capital but it is reliable because of the essential nature of the products and services supplied. The investors in utility companies are not looking for excitement so they are content to have a board and management that gets on with the business in an efficient and responsible manner with no surprises. The foreign capital that has come into the water industry has not given rise to the naked greed seen elsewhere in commerce and industry. Obviously, there is the question of the abstraction of profits to other countries but I hardly think the UK can complain about that having for centuries had an established profit-taking operation [and sometimes several] in virtually every nation on earth. If we are going to make Brexit work for Britain we have to keep the door open to foreign investment otherwise we will never negotiate any reciprocal deals abroad.

Guest
Bishbut says:
26 September 2016

I have two companies,one provides clean water the other deals with waste water .But I only receive one bill from the clean water provider. Baffling at times

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The amount charged for waste water disposal is based on a percentage of the amount of clean water supplied. The company that deals with the waste informs the supply company how much it needs to collect per thousand litres and this is combined in one bill. This is similar to the case where one water company both supplies water and disposes of waste – the two charges are shown separately but combined in one bill. It is also similar to the Council Tax bill where the amounts required by two or more authorities are combined in one bill.

I had hoped that with a dual-fuel tariff for energy there would be one bill for both gas and electricity but this has not happened due to a lack of joined-up administration.

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I’ve always wondered how privatisation of water was ever allowed. It’s not that water’s exactly optional; it’s one of the few things we actually do need. In a sense it’s as absurd as if someone suggested privatising fresh air. Both commodities are freely available, although cities seem to struggle along with ever diminishing supplies of both. And perhaps that’s something that needs to change.

For far too long successive governments have pandered to wealth and business, in the belief that without both the country would simply fail to survive. But I would argue that some commodities are simply too critical ever to be entrusted to a system that prioritises the acquisition of individual wealth over the needs of the community. The counter argument is that re-nationalisation would cost billions but perhaps that’s something that could be examined, too. After all, if the Brexit camp were even remotely accurate we’ll have spare billions for many years…

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I would go along with that Ian and if you want an extreme example , do you know its illegal to gather rainwater in a container in the USA punishable by , first, a fine, second imprisonment , not kidding Ian , why ? because you are doing US Private Utilities out of profit . I have been on US websites and read the complaints from US citizens , its even been in the International news websites , some have defied the law –and have been taken to court and then locked up as well as calculations made as to the loss of profit by the Water Company and this was added to the fine, Coming soon to the UK ???

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I tend to agree with you, Ian. I thought things were best when water and sewage treatment were largely municipal services, or at least a public service operation like a water board for a group of local authorities.

There was probably a case for amalgamating a number of the small independent water companies and for putting proper sewage disposal arrangements into rural areas but the bad move was forcing the entire industry into the regional water authorities strait-jacket and then selling them off. Many local authorities had invested massively in the supply of good water to their towns and cities and had protected their catchments, reservoirs and installations with substantial land-holdings. These were all included in the sale so the new water companies were enabled to sell ‘non-operational’ property to the highest bidder. As a result there was a great deal of asset-stripping in the initial years of privatisation. While there has been no detriment in the quality of water and sewage treatment, and arguably a substantial improvement overall since privatisation, the same result could have been achieved through the municipal structure, especially if the authorities had been given the freedoms that came about through privatisation.

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No fear of that coming to the UK, Duncan. Like the Coalition government’s attempt to privatise the state forests, the adverse public reaction to such interference would be formidable and the idea would quickly be put in the bin. For those of us living in hard water areas, the ability to collect soft water [rain] is a blessing that we would not give up.

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Ian, “fresh water” is not freely available. The water that falls needs to be treated and distributed safely before we can use it. And our waste water needs to be removed and treated for recycling. So it needs huge investment, and paying for by the consumer. However, if any of us want to avoid the cost and use free water, we can go “off supply” and water ourselves.

I wonder when we will have to treat air to make it breathable? We – all of us, particularly motorists – reduce the air quality by driving. We can blame the manufacturers for making vehicles with fossil- fuelled engines but, if we used them more carefully we would improve air quality by reduced emissions. Are we prepared to do that? Not at present. Presumably some crisis will have to occur to precipitate a change.

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Malcolm – You will be happy to know that according to the University of Copenhagen who have taken ice layer samples using a new more accurate technique for samples less than 100 years old in Iceland that the pollution levels in the air is now back from a peak in 1972 to pre 1930 levels so that means the precipitation is a lot more cleaner .

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That’s good news, Duncan, but I think overall we have replaced one form of pollution [smoke from coal fires and furnaces] with another [emissions from motor vehicles and other engines] but hopefully we are moving in the right direction now and the science backs that up. I feel we have to get back to the air quality of around 1800 to breathe the kind of air our ancestors enjoyed [although the atmosphere indoors was often none too pleasant!]

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duncan, good news of course, but I’m thinking of the NOx and particulate pollution in towns and cities, cause largely by motor vehicles and exacerbated by traffic congestion. Something we must address, and something Euro 6 engines alone will not deal with. Whilst pollution levels generally have been falling significantly we are still well behind meeting EU requirements. Traffic should be limited in volume particularly at peak times if we are to really make a difference.

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We are off grid, Malcolm, as many in the mountains are. But I support the distribution of sanitised water to others through paying taxes, and I have no objection to that. That’s what I’m suggesting, and I only mentioned water supplies – not water treatment and sewage disposal. These are services, however, which are needed by everyone in the community and I would hope everyone would be prepared to pay tax to support the process. I think it’s dangerous in the extreme to leave the delivery of vital services such as water in the hands of the commercial sector.

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Guest

I don’t think competition would mean cheaper water bills, most likely the opposite. Remember when directory enquiries (192) was opened up to competition with 118? Prices went sky high overnight!

Guest

Sort out the mess now then look at pseudo competition. Prices rise continuously and profits vanish abroad. Of course foreign companies want to own our water supplies the only bits properly funded are the management and the shareholders.

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The Regulator, Ofwat, has to approve all price rises for water companies. That does not necessarily make it alright but at least there is a degree of independent scrutiny. Would that apply if the market was opened up to all comers?

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I agree with Derek.

Investors only invest if there is a profit to be made. It is a shame that we as a country can’t manage our own basic utilitiles and make profits that stay in the country. I believe our utilities should be government owned, but then they would just become more political footballs at election time.

Having had recent dealings with the Financial Ombudsman, I have no faith in any regulators do “do the right thing”.

Guest

We probably all feel that OFWAT allow the companies an excessive profit margin on what is a very secure investment, but reducing this, or introducing these current proposals would make only marginal reductions to bills.

The main, but largely ignored reason why cost has massively exceeded inflation over recent decades, is the extraordinarily difficulty and hence cost, of removing fertilisers, pesticides, and other agri-chemicals used in modern farming from our water. The cost probably exceeds the value of the additional crop yield.

Addressing this problem, would reduce our bills by far more, as well as reducing environmental degradation.

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I dont think thats going to happen Smike , Beyer has just bought Monsanto for $16 billion and I doubt they are going to become more ethical.

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Agricultural chemicals are not necessarily unethical but they are very expensive and they will affect water quality. Their use to intensify production has been subsidised from EU CAP grants. When we leave the EU that can be stopped. Yields will fall and crop quality and condition might be less homogeneous but more of the land that has been set aside and the acreages taken out of production on EC orders can be brought back into production to restore the balance.

Bayer and Monsanto will make a happy, nitrogen-rich and genetically-modified couple bursting with life and phosphorus. May they go forth and fructify.

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Last paragraph John – I never fail to be amazed at your faith in BB it nearly amounts to a religion , I have seen the non-public face of Monsanto and Jezebel has nothing on them.

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I have little – probably less – faith in governments and their initiatives.

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I thought there might have been a hint of irony in my last paragraph, Duncan.

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Caught me there John , 1 up to you.

Guest
James Harris says:
29 September 2016

Ths is plainly a stupid idea, and Ofwat should be ashamed of putting out such an obvioulsy flawed analysis. The retail bit of water bills is tiny, and so competition at most could save customers a few £s (even less than the amount Ofwat claim, in fact). This is far below what customers told Ofwat they would need to save in order to make switchning worthwhile – which Ofwat also glosses over. Logically, switching rates would be well below those in energy, which everyone in that industry regards as an utter disaster. What on earth are we doing here? Replicating the process of billing and meter reading across multiple firms, therefore actually adding cost in totality?!! As for water customers being “left behind by the digital revolution…” as Ofwat claims, what a joke! I don’t want a relationship with my water company – I don’t need to interact with them. I just want water out of the tap! Ofwat – why consult or survey customers when you just ignore what they tell you?! (Whilst ironically, telling everyone else how good this is for customers).

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Well said, James. But Ofwat has to find something to do to justify its existence and fit in with all the others in the Regulators’ Club who wear their nails down on the sharp edges of rampant and fractious competition. Ofwat is a bit of a backwater really – it thinks it needs to froth from time to time.

Guest
Liz Carey says:
29 September 2016

Competition in water being a sucess is even less likely than Ofwat doing something competent.

Guest
Peter Kinder says:
29 September 2016

What an embaressment – competition has failed in energy and is clearly even less well suited to water. Ofwat, what a joke.

Guest
Peter Donaldson says:
1 October 2016

Being able to get all my utilities from one supplier would be a big benefit, as it makes it much easier to budget. And competition means I would be able to choose someone that offered better customer service too. And if I can save an extra £8 a year, that’s the icing on the cake. It’s not just about price.

Guest

All of you only talk of the cost and investor’s profits not the quality of the so called rain water we receive but you know most in England, (here I think of London and larger towns.) the water is recycled and is fine if you can ignore the additives. However where I live we receive water diverted from OS Spring when the M2 was built. It is very hard and tastes good but I cannot drink it because it makes me cough and pee excessively so I have to use French bottled water, Volvic, Voittel or Evian. It’s a laugh for I rarely have to use the loo in France or London. Here I have to obey the rule, ” a wise general….”. I’d prefer to use water from glass bottles as the plastic issue bothers me. There is Malvern but few Supermarkets stock it. If I could choose a supplier who could give me the precise information on the water they supply and/or could treat their excessively hard water that would be the one I’d choose. At the moment there is no-one who can do anything about my supply and it is making me ill.

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DD- i have been drinking “Highland Spring ” bottled water for years .It comes from the Ochil Hills in Perthshire ( a nice part of the country ) from land certified by the Soil Association it contains (all mg/L) =bicarbonate-150-calcium-40.5-chloride-6.1- magnesium-10.1- nitrate (asNO3) -3.1-potassium-0.7-sodium-5.6-sulphate-5.3. Apart from tasting “natural ” all my indoor pot plants thrive on it growing in enormous bounds , even the Cati. There is one drawback of coarse in which I agree with you -it comes in plastic bottles.

Guest
Roderick says:
1 October 2016

I’d rather the water bills for those of us living in Cornwall are reduced to match those in the rest of the country. We pay insane (2x plus the rest of the country) to cover the costs of coastal cleaning – which is a good thing.
However, why the small population in Cornwall should have to pay the entire cost when the entire country benefits is a a mystery.

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Good point Roderick , it seems to me private water companies can be penalized because of the area they cover , but if this is done for the benefit of the Nation then something is not quite right.

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The production and distribution costs for water and the costs of sewage treatment in the south west have always seemed to be higher than in other parts of the country. The huge influx of visitors puts a strain on both, and clean beaches are a vital element of Cornwall’s tourist appeal. The income from tourists offsets some of the higher costs and I guess things would be worse without them as the water supply and sewage treatment would be much more uneconomical. I doubt if water charges would be any lower in Cornwall if alternative suppliers were available because they would have to buy their water from the local company before selling it on to householders as well as pay for the same kind of sewage treatment. Even with a joined-up water grid I think there would still be major inequalities in water charges because although, theoretically, cheaper treated water could be fed in at one end of a grid for consumption elsewhere, there is no such facility for dealing with our sewage. Furthermore, there is not an infinite supply of ‘cheaper’ water and the distribution of such a heavy and bulky commodity is expensive. And would everyone be happy to have their hard water made softer or their soft water made harder due to blending in the grid? The more I think about this competition idea the more impractical I think it is.

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I think the south west region had higher water bills long before the large regional water authorities [subsequently sold as private companies] were created. The previous mix of municipal undertakings and small private water companies probably struggled to supply water at low cost and sewage treatment was probably expensive as well [and not so effective as today]. At least large water companies with extensive territories [like South West Water] can to some extent equalise the charges across their supply area which might be good for Cornwall residents but not popular in Somerset. I think it will never be possible to have national uniformity with water supply and treatment charges The compensating factor for the south-west is the lower heating bills.

Guest
Roy Wigggins says:
1 October 2016

As I already get my telephone, Internet, electricity, & gas from one suppler, Utility Warehouse Ltd. Having water too is a logical extension.

Guest
John de Rivaz says:
1 October 2016

Having been aware of the problems that have arisen with the de-monopolising of other networked utilities, I am not sure that it is a good idea to add yet another. People now have to mess around with changing supplier, which is really a bit of a fiction as it is always the same network to which they are connected, such as electricity, gas, broadband etc.

As far as telecoms is concerned, the sticking point is the repair monopoly BT Openreach, with their queuing system being incapable of dealing with intermittent faults and ludicrous delays for new connections. Our lane was dug up two years ago for ducting to be laid for optical fibre, yet only now have I seen any being drawn through it to the houses. I have read (probably on Which? but I am not sure) that if you have fibre to the premises then the delays for any repair are even worse than with copper.

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Was that a new housing estate or project John ? That length of time could mean they were not allowed access onto private land.

Guest
John de Rivaz says:
1 October 2016

No, it was an established lane that is a public byway. Some of the houses are over 100 years old. There was never any access problem.

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Steve GS says:
1 October 2016

Most of Herefordshire is supplied by Welsh Water Authority. WWA was one of the most expensive in the UK when water was first privatised – arguing that costs of distribution in a sparsely populated area are much higher. So the government of the day applied a subsidy – but only for WWA’s customers who lived in Wales! Fortunately, this was eventually sorted out – but there is another anomaly – this time in my favour. East Herefordshire is in Severn Trent’s catchment area, so I pay my sewage rates to them – via WWA (whose own rates for sewage are considerably higher).

I have looked into Utility Warehouse as a ‘one-stop’ shop, but they are only cheaper if you take 4 services from them. Since I have no gas and don’t watch TV, I could only take 3 (electricity, phone and broadband). Adding water might make it worth reconsideringg…

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C. A. Ridley says:
2 October 2016

The supply of water and waste treatment, the Health Service, the railway system and the supply and generation of electricity should all be nationalised.

Guest
Ron Bergin says:
5 October 2016

My water bill with Thames Water went up by a third this year and I have no idea why. We are on a meter and use water conservatively. We are a household of two and now pay annually as much for water as we do for heating oil. Seems wrong to me.

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Ron – was it an estimated reading and was it for the same number of days and time of year as the bill you are comparing it with? There is a possibility of a leak in your system; for example I have found that modern toilet cisterns with a press button on top for flushing do not always shut off and water keeps running. If you can, shut off all taps and outlets and open the water meter trap to see whether any flow is still being recorded. If so, there could be an underground leak. Thames Water might help you to locate it and advise you on how to fix it. They should also test the meter to prove it is accurate. If none of these things solves the problem then you will probably have to accept that your consumption has increased.

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From what I gather today (spokeman for the Consumer Council for Water) as the provider of water supply and disposal will not alter, the only change will be in the “retail” aspect – meter reading, billing and customer service for example. This could have an effect on bills of up to £8 a year. Seems a waste of time then to insert another layer of profit makers into the system, in my opinion.

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Am I the last one to have found out that part of our water bills since around 2001 includes a “surface water charge”? This charge is shown on the back of my bill in small print, around £20 or so a year. What is it? It includes rainwater disposal from your roof, but if that does not go into the main drain but into your own soakaway(s) then you should not pay this charge. I found a claim form online with my water company and had a rebate of all these charges back to 2011. Around £145. I am trying to get them backdated to the beginning – 2001.

My gripe is that I recall no publicity for this change, the avoidable charge is shown in small print and not properly explained and the charge is not shown as part of the main bill. Seems to have been a very low key change, perhaps to avoid too many people claiming a bill reduction and possible refund.

So was I the only one to miss out on this?,

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It is publicised on water company websites malcolm , but its the legal aspect that interests me. It seems to me that the water companies dont look on it as an “Act of God ” when the rain falls out of the sky onto your property and not onto council owned land like a public road . This could be because under English Law you OWN the air above your property , therefore their thinking could be that you therefore own the rain that lands on it (unlike the US ) so getting rid of YOUR water is chargeable . This puts a fundamental intrinsic basic legal point , that being the case the water you collect falling on your air space can be collected and used without fear of future US type legislation.

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In the case of my supplier I would have to go to “Your account” – “Billing and Payment” – “Our charges” – e.g. “unmetered charges” – “Surface water drainage” – “claim a rebate”. Hardly obvious or well publicised.

I receive a paper bill which tells me how much to pay so the only time I visit the website is to make an online payment. No visible publicity urging me to look at whether I might qualify for a reduced bill if I dispose of my own rainwater! A case of concealment?

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I had a look at the ofwat website , it took 4 clicks to get to info on surface water but if you think English surface water regs are complicated you should see the ones in Scotland .There sewerage charges are collected by the community tax but try and get any facts about domestic surface water and getting a rebate for not using the public sewage system and its -OMG !!!! Scottish Water wont tell you I had to go to gov.Scotland.co.uk and look up a obscure legal document and you should see the conditions –wow ! you need to conform to a set legal distance from your home all shown in algebraic terms , you need to show via plans from an architect all the drainage from your property , you must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the water does not drain into a river/stream that is connected to public ownership or that it drains into your neighbours property , that the drainage does not endanger the foundations of your house or that the water falls directly on the ground causing ice to form , you will need a building surveyor , plans drawn up , a lawyer , original builders plans , it just goes on and on and Scottish Water has a say as well and did I miss out the environment ? well gov.Scotland doesnt thats brought in as well as Global Warming , its all set up like a legal document . The positive ? you are positively encouraged to collect rainwater and use it —if you make sure its safe to drink as this “saves the environment ” the environment is big in the FM eyes . So while there might not be domestic water meters there sure are a lot of “water tight ” legislation favouring Scottish Water.

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duncan, interesting about Scotland. I fail to understand in a “United” Kingdom why it is that the different countries have different laws. Simply to assert their “independence”?

Your 4 clicks on Ofwat. How many people would, first. think “I winder where my roof rain water etc goes” and “can I pay less”? Then second, go to Ofwat to find out? Very few I would guess. I suggest most rely on their water companies bill through the post. they are good at publicising water meters and Homeserve – style insurance for example, but I never recall seeing a leaflet suggesting I look at my surface water dosposal with a view to a rebate for past excess charges.

@ldeitz (sorry Laura, couldn’t see Simon’s link!): This, I imagine, could affect a lot of people. A good idea perhaps if Which? brought it to peoples attention, told them where to get information, how to claim and what backdated rebates they might expect to receive. Maybe they have and I’ve missed it?

Guest
John Morris says:
29 October 2016

I am aged 69 and have 7 incurable diseases which i manage alone i live in a one bedroom flat that is so small that the cat left because i couldn’t swing her around. I have been in conflict with Thames water because i am paying water rates that are just £42 less than the 3 bedroom house next door, Our house split into 2 flats but identical in size to all the other houses in the street. I paid £308 this years so does the flat upstairs that is £616 for the same building the same size house next door they paid £350. TW say that it is due to the rateable value decided years ago between 1973 and 1993 . when i asked to see how my value was made up i was told that i can’t because there are no records of that anymore I have asked WATRS to help me but i am left with paying a rate that is not based on the size of my flat or how many people live here so just me using water and i can’t check the validity of the rate, and i can’t change to another supplier as i could with gas or electric. Regardless of my disability and income they will stick to the rateable value. The inland revenue tell me the rate is based on square footage if that is so then a one bedroom flat should be less than a 3 bedroom house. I have trust that WATRS will be able to sort something for me so that i can live in my own house until i don’t need it anymore.

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Are you able to have a water meter? They are free and you should then only pay for the water you use.

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Thames Water dont seem too helpful malcolm I had a look through their conditions and they are either adverse or not willing to fit them in flats due to cost . I went to the country this idea came from, the USA , and guess what ? you can employ a plumber who comes and fits one , no big deal , as long as there is an individual water pipe going in your flat separate from all the others . I could easily do it , its coupled connections , the WM is small and compact , it even shows you nice clear coloured photos of actual water meters in a multiple dwelling in the US, easy peasy ! I think we are down to protocol and regulations in this country.

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Thanks duncan. Ofwat say:
What happens if I would like a meter but my company cannot fit one for me?
This may be because:
• there is more than one supply of water to the property;
• your property is on a shared supply;
• the pipework inside your property is inaccessible, obstructed or in poor condition;
• the company is not able to find a suitable place to fit the meter internally or externally; or
• you live in a flat and have access to communal facilities or a shared hot water supply.
If your company says that it cannot fit a meter at your property, it should explain why it is impractical or too expensive to do so. If you disagree with your company’s decision not to install a meter, you can ask us to investigate this on your behalf and make a decision. Our contact details are on page 25.
Your company should also offer you the option to switch to an ‘assessed charge’. This is an estimate of what your metered bill might have been had a meter been installed.
You will need to compare the assessed charge with your current bill to decide if you will save money. Your company will be able to give you more information.

It will be with asking Thames Water to look at fitting a meter or making an assessed charge.

Guest
Ann Banks says:
31 October 2016

Thames Water charges on my bill of £35.69 for last six months are £45.37 extortionate. Pushing it up to £81.06 I’m a pensioner, live alone, very frugal with water to the point of only flushing loo 3 times a day, washing up water waters plants in summer and I’m quick in the shower and I do have a water meter. My yearly consumption is around 35m (cubic metres) in comparison with Thames Water’s 44m for a single person household. Seems however much I try to cut my bill down Thames Water pushing it up!