Lib Dem peer tables bill on excessive water rates

Lord Addington proposes legislation to protect amateur sports clubs

A Liberal Democrat peer has tabled a bill that would give the Government the power to protect community sports groups from excessive water rates.

The private member's bill, put forward by Lord Addington, had its second reading in the House of Lords last week. It proposes giving the Government the ability to cap large rises in utility bills for community amateur sports clubs.

Churches, village halls and charities that included the Scout Association mounted a vigorous campaign last year after a number of water companies began charging all non-domestic customers based on the land area their buildings occupied. Some property-owning charities saw their water bills increase by up to 1,700 per cent last year as a result of the changes.

Water companies previously charged charities the rateable value of their properties, minus a rebate.

Lord Davies of Oldham, the Government's deputy chief whip in the Lords, assured peers last week that the Government was very concerned about the issue but said it could not support a bill that exempted sports clubs without considering the plight of other non-commercial organisations.

"The Government has to address the issue in the round," he said. "There is no doubt that substantial and sudden increases in costs adversely affect voluntary organisations that have no capacity to greatly increase their income in the short term."

But a spokeswoman for United Utilities said that Ofwat, the water companies regulator, wanted companies to adopt the new method of charging and forbade them from distinguishing between different types of non-domestic companies in their pricing schemes. "It will take a while to work out a solution," she said.

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