Plea to flush out bill dodgers
TOUGHER action is being called for on bad debt in the water industry to help those struggling to pay their bills.
Labour is pressing for utility firms to be forced to introduce discounts for poorer households known as social tariffs rather than leaving it to the discretion of companies.
It wants a crackdown on those who dodge payment, which adds £15 to every bill, and the cash used to reduce charges for the worse-off.
The water industry has disproportionately high levels of bad debt compared with other utilities. There has been a ban on disconnection since 1999.
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Problems facing people struggling to pay their bills were raised by Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh at the Labour conference in Manchester.
She said: "Bad debt adds £15 a year to everyone's bill. We want water companies to cut that bad debt by taking tough action on those who won't pay in order to help those who can't pay."
She added: "A Labour government would force all water companies to offer social tariffs to help those most in need. But this Government wants to leave it to water companies to decide for themselves."
But Labour is sketchy on the detail over how the bad debt crackdown would be achieved.
At the start of the summer, an influential Commons Environment Committee called for action by the Government to make it easier for water firms to claw-back unpaid bills.
They cast doubt on the Government move to provide discounts, which would have to be paid for by other householders within the area.
Given the "potential limitations" of social tariffs, the MPs said it was essential those who can afford to pay their bills are made to do so.
The committee point out while some of this is down to struggling customers who "can't pay", it said a significant proportion was due to those who "won't pay".