Water and Sewerage Services in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland’s water and sewerage services are being reformed.
On 1 April 2007 Northern Ireland Water Service became a Government owned company (Go-Co) called Northern Ireland Water Limited (NIW). At the same time the Consumer Council took legal responsibility to represent the interests of water and sewerage consumers in Northern Ireland.
In May 2007 the Northern Ireland Assembly deferred the introduction of domestic charges for water and sewerage services for 2007/08. The Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy also announced a comprehensive review of how water and sewerage services are provided in Northern Ireland.
The Minister ruled out privatisation.
Following an independent review, charges for domestic customers were due to be introduced in 2009/2010. However, in November 2008 the Executive announced a further deferment of domestic water charges, meaning additional charges would not be introduced on 1 April 2009.
In April 2007 the Consumer Council took on the legal role of representing consumers on water and sewerage matters. We do this by working with the NI Assembly to ensure that consumers are at the centre of new policies and decisions. We also lobby government to ensure that any new water charges are fair, affordable and sustainable. We also handle complaints about water and sewerage services. Click here to find out about our complaints role.
Before the independent review, consumers had little trust or confidence in the water reform process and the decisions that had been taken by direct rule ministers. The independent review aimed to restore public trust by carrying out an open and transparent assessment of what has happened. They made recommendations on what they think will be the best way to deliver and pay for water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland.
The independent review looked at how water and sewerage services are paid for. The panel made reports to the Minister Conor Murphy.
The first report was released in October 2007. It looked at the cost of water and sewerage services and how these will be paid for. The second report examined the management, governance and delivery of water and sewerage services. This was published in January 2008. To view the reports in full and find out more about the review go to: www.iwrp-ni.org.uk
The first report confirmed that we already pay around £109 million for water and sewerage through our domestic rates each year (about £160 per household).
We do need to pay more for our water and sewerage services but the Executive has not yet made any decisions about how this will be done or when.
The report also recommends that:
· The previous direct rule ministers’ plans for water charges should be abandoned;
· There should be no separate bill for water and sewerage services – it should appear on the same bill as our rates;
· Current plans for domestic metering should be stopped;
· Future payments should be based on property capital values; and
· There should be more help for those who may be pushed into water poverty as a result of water charges. Water poverty is when a household has to spend more than three per cent of its income on water charges.
The second report also looked at the unique affordability tariff, which was designed by the Consumer Council. The unique affordability tariff is designed to ensure that particularly vulnerable households spend no more than three per cent of their income on water and sewerage charges. The cost of the Affordability Tariff should be met by Government and should not be passed onto other consumers.
The report confirmed that the affordability tariff successfully targets the people that need it most and recommends that everyone who qualifies for rates relief should automatically qualify for the water affordability tariff.
The recommendations also include:
· NIW should continue to be a government-owned company for at least the next five years;
· The Minister for Regional Development should take on overall authority and responsibility for water policy and NIW’s performance;
· Establishment of an independent Ministerial Advisory Panel; and
· The Consumer Council should be given more powers in line with the Energy Order 2003.
In October 2007 the Minister for Regional Development outlined the Executive’s response to the panel’s first report.
The Executive welcomed the finding that we already pay a contribution towards water and sewerage services through our regional rates. From 2008-09 around £160 for the average household will be taken from the domestic regional rate towards water and sewerage services. In 2008-09 and 2009-10 this will be the only contribution that consumers will make, following the Executive’s announcement (November 2008) that direct domestic water charges would be further deferred.
The Executive has also confirmed that the cost for roads drainage will be transferred to Roads Service from sewerage customers.
Plans for non-domestic charges will continue as originally planned.
Unmetered customers will pay a fixed standing charge and a variable charge based on the net annual value of their business premises.
All metered non-domestic customers will pay a standing charge based on the water supply pipe size, water charges based on the amount of water used; and sewerage charges based on the amount of water returned to the sewer.
Since April 2008 all non-domestic customers have to pay a standing charge even if the water used is less than their domestic allowance. The domestic allowance will remain at 200 cubic meters for the year.
The Independent Water Review Panel has recommended that the domestic allowance that was previously given to farmers should be discontinued. However farmers will benefit from the average reduction of £160 in rates. (The same reduction that applies to households)..
More details about what these new water and sewerages charges mean for businesses can be found on NIW’s website: www.niwater.com
The NI Executive will now consider which of the Review Panel's recommendations to take forward and this will then be followed by a public consultation. This gives consumers a further opportunity to have their say.
Following the deliberation of the consultation responses, the NI Executive will decide on how our water and sewerage services will be provided in the future.
The Consumer Council supports the Independent Water Review Panel’s reports as we believe it is the best, most practical starting point for getting the right deal for all consumers, particularly those on low incomes.
We have been consistent in supporting the principle of paying for water and sewerage services. We acknowledge that high quality public services such as health and education and improved infrastructure for water, sewerage and public transport all come at a cost and there is a need to agree on the best way of funding them now and in the future.
Any new water and sewerage charge should be fair, affordable and sustainable.
Related Press Releases
Water Report Can Deliver A Fair Deal For All Consumers 12 October 2007
Driving For A Fair Deal On Water 20 June 2007
Water and the Consumer: Driving for a Fair Deal 20 June 2007