Dan Rogerson MP writes… Welcoming help with water bills in the South West

This week, as part of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, details of a Water Bills Rebate Fund were announced, with a £50 rebate to be provided on water bills for households in Cornwall and other South West Water areas from 2013-14. Along with fellow Liberal Democrats, I have long campaigned on getting a fair deal for bill payers in Cornwall after the botched privatisation under the Conservatives in the 1980s left us with the highest water bills in the country, and following 13 years of complacency about the issue under the last Labour government. As such, this rebate is fantastic news and it is great to see the Coalition’s commitment to act being delivered.

Since the privatisation of water in the 80s, bill payers in the South West Water region – which includes Cornwall, Devon and parts of Somerset and Dorset – have had to pay the highest water charges in the country, with annual bills being around £150 more than the national average, at £517. Bills are so high because the way water was privatised meant that people in the South West are responsible for maintaining 30% of the combined coastline of England and Cornwall, despite only making up 3% of the population.

This week’s announcement will be worth £35million annually, with around 700,000 households benefiting. The cut cannot come in before the 2013-14 date as it requires primary legislation to be passed by Parliament in order for it to happen.

I welcome the straightforward and sensible use of the money that was set aside by the Treasury earlier this year to offset the very high costs of water bills in Cornwall, as well as in Devon and parts of Somerset and Dorset. During the Westminster Hall debate which I called, the minister, Richard Benyon said he was “delighted” that the Coalition had been able to take action to provide some relief for families with their bills. He also acknowledged the “exceptional” and “unfair” situation that bill payers in the South West Water area are faced with, and praised the efforts of local campaigners who have fought to make the system fairer over the past twenty years.

The £50 rebate is definitely a step in the right direction, but there is further to go to fully address the problem by helping the poorest customers and making sure water charges are fairer across the whole country.

During Wednesday’s debate I asked the Minister to consider moving from regional schemes to support those on the lowest incomes to a national scheme – thereby providing support for those in water poverty wherever they are in the country.

It is essential that support plans and social tariffs such as the ‘WaterSure’ scheme are delivered in a fair and sustainable way, ensuring that people who are just above the threshold for help, but who are still struggling with astronomical bills, do not end up losing their help with bills in order to fund social tariffs for the very poorest.

For Cornwall, this could ensure that those who will still be paying hugely above-average bills – even with the £50 rebate – could receive much needed financial support.

*Dan Rogerson is the Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • philip Moss 3rd Dec '11 - 10:33am

    Why should we subsidize water bills for the South West?

    Will they subsidize rents in London for us?

    Why not renationalize the water companies and share the current profits going to shareholders?

    For that matter put all utilities under Government ownership , including the railways, where again we pay a subsidy which simply turns into shareholders dividends.

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