06th September 2005


<p>The Consumer Council today welcomed the announcement of a one-year delay in the Government’s timetable for the introduction of water and sewerage charges by Minister for Regional Development, Shaun Woodward.</p>

Eleanor Gill, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council said: “The Consumer Council is pleased that the new Minister has listened to calls for a delay in the timetable for the introduction of water and sewerage charges here.  It shows that the Government is recognising the need to take time to get it right but for those facing charges without protection this is merely a reprieve.“

Eleanor Gill continued, “This is the biggest consumer issue to face each household in Northern Ireland and the decisions made now will have an impact on us for years to come.  It is encouraging that Minister Woodward has recognised this and has stated his determination to ensure the vulnerable are better protected.  The Government must now ensure that any new water and sewerage charge is fair, affordable and sustainable.  It is our considered view that the current proposals fall short on all three counts for households and business alike and we need to ensure that changes are made during this delay period.“

Outlining the key issues of fairness, affordability and sustainability, Eleanor Gill continued,  “The Minister's statement makes clear that the Government is going to introduce new charges for water and sewerage services. The consumer will have to pay, and indeed pay more to get better quality services, but this cannot be at any price.  The new water and sewerage charge must be fair and reasonable.  

“All unfair elements must be removed from the consumer's bill such as under-investment costs of the past and developer costs of the future.  Consumers must not be expected to pay for those who cannot afford to, nor should they pick up the cost of inefficiencies in our water and sewerage services.

“In terms of affordability, a 25% discount for vulnerable households paid for by other consumers is just not good enough.  The Government must ease the burden by taking its social responsibility seriously.  It is positive news that the Minister is looking further at the protection needed for the 1 in 4 households here who cannot afford to pay a new water and sewerage charge such as older people, low-income families and lone parents. Paying for charges will save the Government over £300m per year which will allow the vulnerable to be protected and still provide substantial funding for other public services.

“At a time when the Government is producing an anti-poverty strategy it must take care that it does not become responsible for adding a new type of poverty to the vocabulary – water poverty.

“The Consumer Council welcomes the Government's commitment to revisiting its proposals on metering and looks forward to further discussions to reflect the consumer view.  “Outside the box” thinking needs to take place on how we can best pay for our water, encourage wise use of our water, and protect those people who need access to high quality water for health and hygiene and genuinely cannot afford the water and sewerage charge. Consumers have told us that if they are to pay a new water and sewerage charge then they prefer a metered water bill just like their electricity or gas bill.“

The Consumer Council will be meeting Minister Woodward this month in order to engage positively and represent the consumer voice as the Government re-examines its current proposals.  The Consumer Council will continue to work with the Department for Regional Development, elected representatives, social partners, trade unions and other key stakeholders to ensure that any new water and sewerage charge provides value for money for those who can afford to pay, and protects those who cannot, and encourages us all to value and conserve this precious resource. 

  1. Consumer Council media contact: Gráinne Duffy, telephone, 028 9067 4813 or e-mail, [email protected]
  2. The Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland's consumers. The Council campaigns for high standards of service and protection and a fair deal for all. It also carries out research, gives advice and publishes reports and other publications. It deals with individual complaints about electricity, natural gas, coal and passenger transport.
  3. For more information, visit our website at www.gccni.org.uk