Sunday, April 24, 2011

Seasonal water metering is seen as a con by UK consumers, study finds

Jamie Doward in the Guardian (UK): The race to provide Britain with a sustainable water supply is already generating the first of what is likely to be a long list of controversies.

As the UK basks in temperatures that put Athens in the shade and with rivers already running low, utility companies are under increasing pressure to preserve water. But the most comprehensive study of its kind suggests the leading option for ensuring the UK enjoys a sustainable water supply – metering – is hitting the poorest hardest and is viewed with suspicion by consumers who believe it is a ruse by utility companies to increase their profits. The study by Wessex Water, which supplies water to more than one million households in the west country, found the introduction of meters reduced customer demand by 17%, higher than previous estimates.

The reduction was even greater if the meters were tied to a tariff system that saw the price of water rise in the summer, an increasingly popular option being considered by the utility companies, but one which has caused widespread anger among consumers.

The Wessex study, the largest since metering was introduced 20 years ago, found 15% of customers saw their annual bills rise by more than £100 after flat-rate metered systems were installed. A quarter of the poorest customers saw their bills increase by more than £50. Phil Wickens, tariffs manager at Wessex Water, acknowledged his company had one of the highest water rates in the UK, but said that it was vital the industry introduced a new charging system if the UK was to have a sustainable supply.

"We want a charging system that gives us the ability to meet future challenges in the long term," Wickens said. "Climate change and population growth are going to place pressure on the need for increased investment. In order for us to secure that investment we really need all of our customers to be willing and able to pay their bills. There is a commercial incentive for raising these issues now."…

Water meters shot by Man, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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