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Water Bill Warning to South West Water

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7:54am 5th November 2013
(Updated 7:54am 5th November 2013)

South West Water is being warned to think again about bill hikes for Cornish customers.

The government's writing to suppliers urging them to reconsider increases.

We could be facing paying another £70 by 2020.

Rik is a new dad from Liskeard who has just seen his bills leap. He said: "I thought it was bad enough last year it went up from £36 to £49.50. I got a letter through this year telling me there had been a review of the meter budget plan and it had gone up from £49.50 a month to £71.50 a month - which is absolutely diabolical.

"OK we do maybe two more washes with baby clothes in the washing machine a week and then we're cooling the food down - the bottle. But it's not a lot of water."

Back in the summer company spokesman Doctor Stephen Bird was defending the possible hikes to Pirate FM. He told us: "We've come up with what we think is a balanced programme, to improve things like the treatment works at Falmouth and Bude, building flood defences around our assets in Restormel and Drift and so on - and also upgrading sewage networks to protect local shellfish water quality.

"The important thing is we get the balance right. We are talking about further increases of less than inflation, recognising the pressure on our individual customers' household bills and so on. We think we've struck the right balance."

Now the Environment Secretary has urged water companies to "look closely" at whether price increases are necessary.

In a letter to suppliers, Owen Paterson MP said they should recognise the financial strain that people were under.

The intervention came with Ofwat expected later this week to reject an application from Thames Water to increase bills by £29 in 2014-2015.

The regulator has questioned the profits being made by firms, and suggested its next Price Review could ease the upward pressure on bills by up to £750m after 2015.

Mr Paterson said: "We know that household budgets are under pressure, and keeping water bills affordable is a crucial way we can help hardworking people.

"That is why we are pressing hard to make sure customers get a fair deal, by encouraging water companies to look closely at any price increases, introduce social tariffs for vulnerable customers and crack down on bad debt."

Water bills have risen by more than 60% in the last decade and the average household bill is now £388.

Since 2009, average increases in water and sewerage bills have been in line with inflation, but this has still outstripped increases in household income.

Water companies have blamed the price increases on the costs of environmental improvements including replacing ageing Victoria water pipes.

It comes after the cost of living has become increasingly important on the political agenda after Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged to freeze energy prices if his party wins the 2015 General Election.

Mr Miliband will accuse the coalition Government of "shrugging their shoulders" about low wages and rising prices this week and will challenge Conservative and Lib Dem MPs to back his policy of freezing energy bills in a Commons vote on Wednesday.

During a speech at Battersea Power Station, he will say: "The cost of living crisis isn't just an issue for the lowest paid, it affects the squeezed middle just as much.

"This is not just an issue facing Britain. It is the issue facing Britain. It is about who our country is run for."

Prime Minister David Cameron last week said he wanted to "roll back" environmental taxes that bump up energy bills, and promised more details in Chancellor George Osborne's Autumn Statement on December 4.

:: Read the full letter here

7:54am 5th November 2013

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