Monday, 11 February 2008

Possible water metering for all of us

Almost a year ago, on the 22nd February, I wrote a fairly lengthy piece about the rise in our water/sewerage bills. One of the facts I highlighted was how in the south west we have the highest water charges in the country and the lack of fairness in the charging system. To their credit local backbench MPs have badgered the government of the day on this question.

Now the government have come up with a review - it looks as if they want to get some sort of coherent water strategy for the whole country (at last) and I imagine get the west country MPs off their backs. One of the suggestions being put about is to try and get everyone on a water meter. This has its good points such as relating payment to usage. But universal water metering cannot be done for practical reasons. There are instances where say three properties are connected to the same service pipe and can't be separately metered. OK these are in the minority but they still form a significant number. However this can I understand be sorted out to a degree by South West Water coming and doing an assessment of your water usage and billing you accordingly.

Practically everyone who has changed to a meter (I admit I have yet to do so partly because my bill is derived from the low rateable value of my very small cottage) has been agreeably surprised at the reduction in their bills. Effectively a large number of those paying for their water in the traditional way are subsidising the people on meters. The government are making great noises about the scope for reduction in bills but is this spin once again? Metering might incentivise people to use less water but overall income to the water company will drop unless they substantially increase everyone's payment. So it's back to the old question of whether the government can or will provide any sort of subsidy to us. I think the metering thing is to try and get them off the hook for the moment.

Another suggestion being mooted is that of some sort of sliding scale being instituted so that when people's useage soars in the summer as they fill up their swimming pools and sprinkle their lawns then this 'extra' water will be paid for at a higher rate. Hold on though. Superficially charging more for this sort of non essential use might seem like a good idea but what about all this water that gets used by holidaymakers, should they be charged for it. Imagine for a moment a family from 'up north' enjoying a two week holiday in sunny Cornwall. Let us say they are on a meter at home. Coming down here they will save two weeks water usage plus our hotelier or bed and breakfast proprietor would perhaps be shelling out not just for their normal water bills but a premium for this extra summer use. The foregoing is a development of a long held argument and the question arises as to whether the visitor should be charged extra because of the water use thus making the price of their holiday even more uncompetitive with the overseas package bargains. Not an easy one to solve.

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