Hurd urges Government to intervene on water bills

Shadow third sector minister calls for moratorium on increased charges for charities

Shadow third sector minister Nick Hurd will write to Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne to ask if the Government will consider intervening to help charities hit by huge rises in water bills.

Some charities that own property have seen their bills increase tenfold after water companies introduced a new charging system based on the amount of rainwater that drains into sewers.

The Scout Association has estimated it will increase scout group costs by £1.5m.

In a House of Commons debate on third sector organisations on Wednesday, Hurd said it was extraordinary that the changes, which were recommended by regulator Ofwat, had been introduced without an impact assessment.

"Surely the one thing the Government must do in these times is avoid making things even harder for people trying to help their communities," said Hurd. "Will they step in now and impose a moratorium on these changes, at least until an impact assessment is done? That would be real help now."

Byrne did not pledge any specific help, but said: "We are determined to make sure there is specific, targeted, focused help for organisations that are facing new pressures."

Hurd told Third Sector he was encouraged by the response. "To date the Government line has been that it was a matter for the water companies," he said.

"Liam's answer suggested that his mind was more open. I will write to him asking him to confirm the impression given."

Last year the Scottish Government exempted charities from paying water charges for six years. Hurd said he hoped a similar idea move could be introduced throughout the UK.

A petition started by Teesside churchwarden David Boddy calling on the Government to instruct water companies to charge as charities rather than businesses has attracted almost 45,000 signatures on the Number 10 website - 17,000 more than any other current petition.

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