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CUSTOMERS CALL FOR CRACKDOWN ON RISING WATER BILLS

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Customers have had enough of rising water and sewerage bills and rising water company profits said the Ofwat Nation...
Customers have had enough of rising water and sewerage bills and rising water company profits said the Ofwat National Customer Council (ONCC).

When Ian Byatt, director general of water services, resets price limits in 1999 they will want to see their bills falling in real terms.

Council chairman Mr Gardner said:

'Bills for electricity, gas and telecoms are already falling in real terms. Why not for water too? Although the regulator moderated price increases at the last review, many customers' bills are still rising in real terms.

'In the absence of a healthy dose of competition in the water industry, ONCC looks to the regulator to take the toughest action possible, to the extent that his statutory duties allow, to get water bills down - and to see that they stay down.

'ONCC would like to see an immediate and substantial cut in average bills in 2000-01 and thereafter average bills kept to below the rate of inflation.

'Since privatisation, customers have seen above inflation increases in their bills to pay for the large investment programme which has put water quality at its highest level in history and has led to substantial improvements in environmental quality standards.

'While they want quality and environmental obligations to be met, the priority for most customers now is to see bills actually fall in real terms.'

Deputy Chairman Clive Wilkinson commented:

'In my view, water companies have rewarded their shareholders handsomely but have treated their customers much more mean- spiritedly. Customers have had enough of big profits and rising dividends and, at best, being handed back the small change.

'It's time customers got a windfall reduction in bills.'

The council made its comments on the day that Ian Byatt published his objectives and the timetable for the next Periodic Review, which will be completed in December 1999.

In some regions companies may suggest that they must invest in additional resources, and that higher bills will be required to ensure that they are able to maintain domestic supplies in future. That would not be acceptable to customers while leakage remains high.

Jim Gardner added:

'Given the efficiency savings that the companies have so far been able to make, and the considerable returns to shareholders, our gut feeling is that there should already be enough money in the system to ensure supply in future years, without looking for customers to pay more.'

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