Water regulator must act to secure better deal for customers

Posted: Wednesday 27th January 2016

The Public Accounts Committee publishes report calling for the water regulator, Ofwat, to adopt new measures intended to secure a better deal for customers.

In its Fifteenth Report of this Session, the Committee concludes Ofwat has consistently over-estimated water companies’ financing and tax costs when setting price limits.

As a result, water companies made windfall gains of at least £1.2 billion between 2010 and 2015 from bills being higher than necessary.

The Committee finds Ofwat’s efforts to ensure these gains were shared with customers “secured limited results that varied significantly” from company to company.

Financial support for customers who struggle to pay water bills also varies substantially.

Other concerns raised by the Committee include customers in areas of water scarcity paying to develop expensive new capacity, when water trading with other companies might be more cost-effective.

Among its recommendations, the Committee urges Ofwat to review its approach to setting allowances for the cost of debt and corporation tax, and report publicly on what actions it intends to take to improve its performance.

It also calls on the regulator to use comparisons with other sectors and international suppliers to develop a clearer picture of what services should cost if provided efficiently.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said: "Ofwat was set up to protect the interests of customers, most of whom have no choice over who supplies their water yet must pay bills typically running to hundreds of pounds.

“Many householders will therefore be appalled to learn these bills could have been smaller had Ofwat adopted a different approach to setting price limits for water companies.

“This approach must be reviewed as a priority. We are also calling for greater transparency over windfall gains made by water suppliers, and more effective action to see these gains passed on to customers.

“There should be consistent financial support for people who struggle to pay their water bills, which can amount to a significant chunk of household spending, and accompanying measures to ensure those people know what help is available.

“These and other concerns set out in our Report represent significant and pressing challenges for Ofwat.

It must move swiftly to develop and present clear plans to achieve a better deal for customers, both now and in the years ahead."

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