PEOPLE in the North East will see their water bills rise at a lower rate than almost anywhere else in the country, it was announced yesterday.
Northumbrian Water said its average household bill will rise by 2.2% in April to £359 for 2013-14, working out at around 15p per week more than last year.
Water bills nationally are rising by an average of 3.5%, taking the average water bill across the country to £388 a year, the regulatory body Ofwat said.
The biggest hike in the country will be from Thames Water, with bills rising by an inflation-busting 5.5%. Only Welsh supplier Dwr Cymru plans a lower rise than Northumbrian Water, though the average Welsh bill will still be significantly higher than those in the North East, at £434.
Northumbrian Water’s chief executive officer Heidi Mottram said that while she appreciated no increase in bills will be welcomed by families, customers in the region will still pay an average of less than £1 a day for their water and sewage services.
The company is at the same time investing to improve service and bring jobs to the region, Ms Mottram said.
She added: “We are very aware that some people have difficulty managing the family budget and the affordability of our services is always a concern.
“We offer many ways to assist people in meeting the charges and would urge and customers who think they may experience difficulty to get in touch with us as soon as possible.”
National Debtline said it took a record 19,667 calls for help with water debts last year, up from 12,226 in 2010.
There were more calls from people worried about water bills than there were from those with concerns about their rent or mortgage.
Ofwat, the regulatory body for water companies in the UK, said water suppliers initially pushed for rises of up to 10% above inflation.
Regina Finn, the body’s CEO said: “That didn’t chime with what customers told us they wanted, so we said they could only increase bills in line with inflation. Customers can’t choose their supplier. It’s our job to make sure they are protected.
“We understand that there is huge pressure on household incomes and any rise is unwelcome. Inflation is driving these increases,” she explained.
Rises will help cover investment, including improved emergency provisions for flooding, Ms Finn said.
Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at the price comparison website USwitch.com, said customers can protect themselves from the rising of prices.
“While consumers might not have the choice of switching to a cheaper water supplier, they do have the option of moving to a water meter which could save them £54 a year,” she said.
“As a rule of thumb, if there are more bedrooms than people in a household then a water meter could be more cost-effective.”