Minister threatens to ban water companies from making huge price hikes

Irranca-Davies speaks out after Scouts lobby Parliament

Environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies has threatened to introduce legislation to prevent water companies from vastly increasing bills to voluntary organisations.

The Scout Association, supported by churches and sports clubs, staged a mass lobby of Parliament on St Swithin's Day last week in protest at water companies' new method of calculating bills, which had led to increases of up to 1,000 per cent.

"Something is clearly wrong if Scout groups, churches and community organisations face huge hikes in their water bills," Irranca-Davies told the Water 09 conference in London last week.

"I could not be more clear that Ofwat and water companies must resolve the issue."

He said he expected to see proposals "very soon" and that if they were not "fair and equitable" he would act, possibly by legislating.

Water regulator Ofwat issued guidance in 2003 recommending that companies charge customers according to the amount of rainwater that drains into sewers rather than the old method based on properties' rateable values.

Following this guidance was now leading to increases in water bills that would force some groups to close, the Scout Association warned.

It said last week that it would call on MPs to reform Ofwat unless the regulator were to revise its guidance within two weeks.

A spokeswoman for the Scout Association said on Friday it had still not received any assurances and would push for an amendment in the Flood and Water Management Bill, part of the draft 2009/10 parliamentary programme, unless the situation changed.

An Ofwat spokesman said charging by sewer drainage was a "good and fair policy" put into practice poorly by one water company, United Utilities.

"We expect United Utilites to take steps to put right its mistakes," the spokesman said.

A spokesman for United Utilities said "We have apologised to our customers for the way in which they feel policy was implemented. We have the moratorium in place and we remain committed to implementing a fair system of charging for these services.

Following consultations with those groups affected we will be making an announcement regarding tariff structure.

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