U.K. water customers want reliable supply at reasonable cost


London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — June 18, 2008 – Water customers in the U.K. want an efficient, safe, reliable supply of water at a reasonable cost now and in the future, and all else regarding water services is of markedly less importance.

This is the key finding from a review of customer priorities on water and sewerage services that was conducted for the Water Industry Stakeholder Steering Group.

In their everyday lives most participants rarely thought about their water supply and take its safety, quality and reliability for granted. Moreover very few knew how much water they used, nor very much about the water supply system.

Participants were aware that bills had risen overall but the majority felt they still compared favourably to other utility bills. However, some in high rateable value homes or with high metered usage, and most in the south west, felt that their water bill was already excessive.

There was widespread, if somewhat vague, awareness that water companies made large profits. There was also widespread resentment at reported levels of profit, particularly among the participants who paid higher bills, those who were aware of leakage figures and those who had experienced hosepipe bans.

Some participants believed that because water (and sewerage) are essential services the industry should never have been privatised. Some felt there should be direct competition between companies and that customers would then benefit from its effect on prices. Foreign ownership of companies was also resented and reports that several water companies had recently been bought or sold was taken as evidence that they are desirable because profitable at the expense of the captive customers.

All participants felt the rate of leakage was unacceptable and that it should be reduced. While some participants were willing to accept a slight (2 or 3 percent) increase in bills to fund leak repairs, the majority felt that the cost of repairs should be met from profits until the leakage is reduced considerably.

A good number of participants had thrifty habits and conserved water, whether or not they were on a meter. Some metered customers claimed metering made no difference to their consumption, while others claimed it had affected their consumption. Many were willing to save more, but there was quite a bit of feeling that water saving devices should be promoted and subsidised by the water companies or the government.

Participants felt that more information should be made available in schools and to the public. With most throwing away bill inserts the most popular suggestions for public communications were television advertisements, documentaries and single, pithy informative statements printed on water bills such as “In 17 minutes a lawn sprinkler uses as much water as one person uses in a whole day.” Topics considered important included how water and effluent is treated, why water conservation is necessary and how to do it, and how much water an individual uses.

The great majority of participants felt that water companies, like other private sector companies, should finance future expenditure from their profits and resources. A small number wanted their bills to fall and were happy for improvements to be curtailed or slowed down as a result, while others were willing to make a small contribution towards the investment on condition that their contribution was more than matched by contributions from shareholders.

Leading investment priorities were felt to be reducing leakage, maintaining current levels of safety, and meeting future demand.

The Water Industry Stakeholder Steering Group comprises the Consumer Council for Water, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Drinking Water Inspectorate, Environment Agency, Natural England, Ofwat, Water UK, and the Welsh Assembly Government.