Cut non-payers' water to a trickle, Lords say
LONDON (Reuters) - Householders who refuse to pay their water bills should have their supply reduced to a trickle until they settle up, a House of Lords committee said on Tuesday.
Water companies were owed 962 million pounds last year, a level of debt the Lords Science and Technology Committee said was "completely unacceptable".
The committee also criticised the government over its plans to build thousands of homes in the southeast, the driest region of the country, saying it should have consulted more widely over the impact on water usage.
Research by regional utility South East Water had found that around two-thirds of customers owing it money could afford their bills. By not paying they were adding 10 pounds to every other customer's bill.
Disconnection for non-payment of domestic bills was banned in 1999, but the committee, chaired by Lord Selborne, said an alternative penalty could be partial disconnection, as practised in Australia.
"We saw in Australia a tamper-proof device which allows only a limited flow into the house, enough for basic health and safety needs, and we thought this was a rather good idea," he told BBC radio.
"I don't see why we should have to pay the bill for people who can pay but refuse to do so.
Consumer Council for Water spokesman Andrew Marsh said disconnection had been banned to protect vulnerable customers and told the BBC the committee's suggestion would be a retrograde step.
"It's very difficult to distinguish between 'can't pays' and 'won't pays,'" he said.
"There's a risk that vulnerable customers could be pulled in accidentally into the 'won't pay' category.
Housing and Planning Minister Yvette Cooper said the government was not currently proposing to restrict supply for non-payment.
But she said consumers, as well as suppliers, regulators and planners had to take responsibility for water management.
Despite heavy rain in May, southeast England is facing its severest drought for a century, with many water companies enforcing restrictions on domestic water use.
On house-building, the Lords committee said the government had "failed to consider the water management implications of their house building plans at an early enough stage.
It said government should ensure that the water companies' plans factor in what would inevitably be a significant increase in demand.
Excuse me but ........ not paying your water bill is no different from not paying other bills.
More important WTF has it got to do with the government. They sold of f their interest in an effort to abrogate their responsibility.