Charities prepare a challenge as water utilities drop rebate

Charities that own property have criticised water companies for a new method of charging that has increased bills by up to 1,700 per cent.

More than 30,000 people have signed a petition on the 10 Downing Street website urging companies to excuse churches from their new charging system for non-domestic customers. Village halls are preparing to mount similar campaigns and the Scout Association is considering how to respond. Thousands of amateur sports clubs could also be affected.

Water companies have in the past charged charities the rateable value of their properties, minus a rebate. But four of the 10 water companies in England and Wales have scrapped the rebate and begun charging all non-domestic customers based on the amount of rainwater that drains into the sewers. The other six companies are expected to follow suit.

"We are seething with injustice," said Gervase Dodd, treasurer of Alvanley village hall in Cheshire, whose annual water bill has risen from £67 to £1,233. "It is so greedy. We have been rebutted by United Utilities, so we're trying collective action."

The Scout Association said half of the 9,500 scout groups owned their own buildings. "This could affect them significantly," said a spokesman. "We are deciding whether to coordinate our response."

A spokesman for sports club association CCPR, which represents 270 groups, said: "It could take a big toll on their limited resources."

David Boddy, churchwarden of North Thornaby in Teesside set up the church petition after his parish's bill from Northumbrian Water increased from £70 to £800. "Most of the proceeds from our summer fair will now be paying water bills," he said.

A Northumbrian Water spokeswoman said it introduced the new charging system on the recommendation of water regulator Ofwat, and said it was fairer because businesses no longer subsidised the charity rebate.

She said the company could advise organisations on diverting rainwater away from drains to reduce bills.

Brian Hurd, customer service director at United Utilities, which made £677m profit last year, said: "The aim is not to increase our revenue but to provide a system that better reflects the costs involved."

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