Second homes to get £50 water rebate - but not businesses
Second home owners could pay nothing while rural post offices and small shopkeepers lose out altogether under the Government's £50 per year annual reduction in water charges, it has emerged.
Homeowners with water meters who use very little water – such as those who only spend a few weeks each year in their holiday home – could receive a zero bill after the rebate is applied, South West Water have confirmed.
However some 70,000 householders who pay business rates as well as council tax at their home address will not be eligible for the discount – regardless of whether they use water as part of their operation. The anomalies in the scheme have come to light as bills for the coming year are now landing on doorsteps across the region.
The cash-back scheme begins in April in compensation for the botched water industry privatisation that left customers paying for the upkeep of a third of the nation's beaches, through the highest bills in the country.
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Kevin Marshall, who runs the village post office in Parracombe, on Exmoor feels the distinction is unfair as his business uses no water and only uses one room of his eight-room property.
Mr Marshall, 60, said it was "wrong" that he receives no help towards his £600 annual water bill.
"There is no sink, no pipes – the only water we use for the business is to wash the floor – that's it. We are the only shop in a little village on Exmoor with 100 houses but I don't see why we should have to pay all that money."
St Ives MP Andrew George, who campaigned on the issue, said there were a large number of anomalies, including for "second home owners with low water usage".
"There is also major unfairness in households of multiple occupation," he added.
The Government rebate is set to run until at least 2020.
This year, South West Water's average bill rose by £26 to £543, £167 more than the national average.
Tim Jones, chairman of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, said there was no other cost-effective way to differentiate between householders and businesses.
"We were pleased to have got the one reduction in the country – it seems unfair but the fact is there is no other way to do it," he added.
South West Water said it was "implementing the reduction as specified in the agreement by Defra, for households.
"It is possible that customers could end up with a zero bill, though it would be quite rare," a spokesman added.
"The key thing is that customers with low usage – say £250 – will save one fifth."