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DROUGHT ORDER FOR THAMES COULD AFFECT LIVES AND LIVELIHOODS, SAYS CONSUMER CHAMPION

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NORTHUMBRIAN WATER MUST WORK HARD TO MAINTAIN CONSUMER CONFIDENCE, SAYS LOCAL WATCHDOG...
NORTHUMBRIAN WATER MUST WORK HARD TO MAINTAIN CONSUMER CONFIDENCE, SAYS LOCAL WATCHDOG

ESSEX AND SUFFOLK WATER POSTS SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN PROFITS: CONSUMER CHAMPION'S VIEW

MORE WORK NEEDED BEFORE ALLOWING WATER INDUSTRY TO CUT SUPPLIES TO A TRICKLE, CONSUMER CHAMPION SAYS

The consumer body representing water customers in England and Wales today said a drought order for Thames Water could have a major impact on the lives and livelihoods of consumers in and around London.

Thames Water's application for a drought order comes two weeks after Sutton and East Surrey Water (which has a successful record on meeting its leakage targets) became the first water company to implement a drought order since 1995. However, the Consumer Council for Water is concerned that Thames Water may find it hard to persuade its customers to conserve water resources, as it has a poor record on leakage from its pipes.

Yve Buckland, chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said:

'The Consumer Council for Water understands why Thames Water may need drought powers after low rainfall in the south east over the past 18 months. Ultimately, there is a need to minimise the risk of more severe restrictions later on in the season. Consumers tell us they won't stand for standpipes.

'However, drought orders have the potential to affect people's lives and livelihoods, so this application will make some water customers feel uneasy. In particular, this could affect local businesses that rely heavily on using water for their trade. These powers would be far wider than those available to Thames Water through a hosepipe ban.'

She added: 'Therefore we would want Thames Water not to be gung ho in applying drought order powers, if granted, and to look carefully at the impact on vulnerable consumers, and businesses which rely on water. Meanwhile, when water supplies are in heavy demand we all have the responsibility to use water wisely. Both household and business consumers should do all they can to save water.'

The Consumer Council for Water is advocating five fast fixes for households and businesses to help beat the drought:

Five fast fixes for households on water saving

* Fix any leaks. A dripping tap losing one drop a second will waste

15 litres of water a day.

* Use water efficient appliances in the home. A typical family of four uses the equivalent of two baths of water every day: fit a Save-a-Flush device (you may see it called a 'hippo' or even a 'bog

hog') and you could save a litre each time you flush.

* Save water when washing - take a shower rather than a bath, don't leave the tap on when brushing your teeth and use the plug in the washbasin when shaving.

* Save water in the kitchen - use a bowl instead of leaving the tap on when washing up, boil only the amount of water you need in the kettle, and keep cool water in the fridge rather than running the tap to get a cold drink. And don't use dishwashers or washing machines half full.

* Save water in the garden - collect rainwater from the roof in a water butt, and give your plants a soaking once a week rather than watering daily. Water your plants in the early mornings or evenings, reducing the amount lost through evaporation.

Five fast fixes for businesses

* Take regular meter readings. The majority of businesses are metered. By taking regular meter readings, you can monitor your water consumption. Meter readings can reveal if the amount of water used is too high.

* Trace and repair leaks: Any leaks occurring in the pipes on a property will waste water and money. Leaks may be difficult to trace, but you can check if there is a leak on your premises by taking meter readings at night or at weekends when water is not normally used.

Some water companies will also help business customers to check for leaks.

* Water efficient taps: Dripping taps can waste a large amount of water over time. You could consider installing self-closing press taps that cut off the supply after a short period.

* Water efficient toilets: Some workplace toilets are programmed to flush all the time, even when there is no-one in the building. Reduce waste by changing the settings, or by installing a sensor-controlled flushing system.

* Appoint a water monitor: Assign a member of staff to walk regularly around the site, checking for any obvious waste or excessive water use.

Notes

1. Thames Water has applied for a drought order, which would enable the company to impose a ban on non-essential usage in London.

2. A drought order would enable the company to restrict or limit:

* watering of gardens (apart from market gardens)

* watering of allotments

* watering of parks

* watering of surfaces used for sport (natural or artificial)

* filling of privately owned swimming pools

* filling of ornamental ponds other than fish ponds

* operation of car washes

* washing of vehicles or aircraft for any reason other than safety or hygiene

* cleaning of building exteriors other than windows

* cleaning of windows by hosepipes or sprinklers

* cleaning of industrial premises for any reason other than safety or hygiene

* operation of ornamental fountains or cascades, including those where water is recycled;

* operation of any cistern which flushes automatically when building is unoccupied.

3. The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) represents consumers in England and Wales, and took over from WaterVoice on 1 October 2005.

Consumers can contact CCWater on a national number, 0845 039 2837.

4. CCWater is the statutory water consumer body, and operates as a non-departmental public body reporting to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Assembly Government. At regional level, it is supported by nine regional committees in England and one for Wales.

ESSEX AND SUFFOLK WATER POSTS SIGNIFICANT INCREASE IN PROFITS: CONSUMER CHAMPION'S VIEW

The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) Eastern has called for the water industry to maintain consumer confidence and show what benefits it is delivering tocustomers as Northumbrian Water (which includes Essex and Suffolk Water) reported an increase in profits from£96m to£130m.

Catherine Harvey, CCWater Eastern Chairman, said: 'In this first year of a five-year investment period in the Essex and Suffolk operating area, the company has hit the targets set for the year for leakage from its supply pipes and environmental issues. Also, we're pleased to see that Essex and Suffolk Water has no current plans to introduce any water restrictions in 2006 and is securing further water supplies by developing the Abberton Reservoir scheme.

'Profits have the benefit of helping Essex and Suffolk Water to deliver improvements consumers are looking for. However, consumers in the region have seen significant increases in their water bills over the recent years, including an average of£13 increase on their annual water bills last year (2005-06). Since all company revenue comes from customers, they are understandably asking questions about whether bills have been allowed to rise too high.'

She added: 'Essex and Suffolk Water customers want to see value for money and enhanced services, particularly around water resources so that both the company and customers can be sure there are no water restrictions beyond 2006.'

To allay consumers' concerns, CCWater Eastern has asked Essex and Suffolk Water to give serious consideration to not taking up the full amount of the price increases allowed by Ofwat from next April, or to invest in further service improvements.

Notes

1. CCWater Eastern represents consumers of Anglian Water, Cambridge Water, Essex and Suffolk Water and Tendring Hundred Water.

2. CCWater is the statutory water consumer body, and operates as a non-departmental public body reporting to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Assembly Government.

3. At regional level, it is supported by nine regional committees in England and one for Wales.

4. Our national website is www.ccwater.org.uk

NORTHUMBRIAN WATER MUST WORK HARD TO MAINTAIN CONSUMER CONFIDENCE, SAYS LOCAL WATCHDOG

The Consumer Council for Water Northumbria has called for Northumbrian Water to work hard to maintain consumer confidence as it continued the recent trend of water and sewerage companies reporting an increase in pre-tax profits from£96m to£130m.

Andrea Cook, Chairman of CCWater Northumbria, said: 'With higher bills and companies reporting strong profits, it is important that they maintain consumer confidence by demonstrating that they are delivering benefits to customers.

'Customers in the North East have the lowest water and sewerage charges in the country. However in a region which has high levels of unemployment and economic deprivation, every pound counts. If customers are paying more they have a right to expect more.

'Northumbrian Water has a good record on leakage and there are no water shortages in the region. It has brought forward its investment programme to mitigate an increase in the number of customers experiencing sewer flooding due to heavy rainstorms over recent summers, but it must not rest on its laurels.'

She added: 'Since all company revenue comes from customers, they are understandably asking questions about whether the last price review was too generous. Companies have the option of choosing not to take up the full amount of the price increases allowed by the regulator from next April, or to invest in further service improvements. We would encourage Northumbrian Water to give these options full consideration.'

Notes

1. CCWater Northumbria represents consumers of Northumbrian Water and Hartlepool Water.

2. CCWater is the statutory water consumer body, and operates as a non-departmental public body reporting to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Government.

3. At regional level CCWater is supported by nine regional committees in England and one for Wales.

MORE WORK NEEDED BEFORE ALLOWING WATER INDUSTRY TO CUT SUPPLIES TO A TRICKLE, CONSUMER CHAMPION SAYS

The body representing water consumers in England and Wales has expressed interest in a proposal by a House of Lords select committee that wilful non-payers of water bills should be punished with a 'trickle' supply of water to their home. The House of Lords Science and Technology committee recommended the scheme, used in Yarra Valley, Australia, as a way of reducing the£962m of outstanding debt to water companies.

Yve Buckland, chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said:

'Anything that could reduce the rapidly growing consumer debt in the industry is worth looking at. It's an interesting idea, but we need to understand more.

'Water companies are not yet ready for the introduction of a trickle flow supply for certain water customers. There needs to be more research into those who won't pay and those who have difficulty paying.

'The latter could be suffering financial hardship and therefore find it difficult to pay. Until water companies develop a robust method of distinguishing between those that won't pay and those that can't, it would not be right to introduce this type of water rationing.'

She added: 'In the meantime, there is plenty of scope for water companies to reduce consumer debt. Companies arrange flexible payment plans, and can help to clear outstanding charges by taking deductions direct from benefits. Some will operate schemes to help consumers who have already fallen behind with their payments to catch up with and maintain regular payments in the future. Consumers worried about debt should contact their water company and find out what's available.'

The Consumer Council for Water was also concerned that the House of Lords committee had questioned the long-term planning of the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in providing future water supplies for hundreds of thousands of new homes in the South East.

Dame Yve said: 'The continual rises in public demand for water, coupled with a planned housing boom and tighter control of water being taken from the environment, are putting water resources under strain. So proper long-term planning to meet the needs of future consumers is essential.

'There is no single solution to the problem of ensuring supplies of water in Southern and Eastern England. The water companies need to address leakage, and in the medium term additional resources are needed, be it through new reservoirs, desalination plants or making the best of what we have by improving connections between supply networks in the South East.'

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