£160 per ratepayer for water

The experts report on the future for water charging landed on a number of desks at Stormont last Thursday and the Sunday Life claims it recommends a delay to charges for a further year and that despite NIO past denials ratepayers have been contributing about £160 a year towards water provision. Its key recommendations are:
Future water charges be linked to rateable value
The Water Company to reduce costs by 40% and sell off assets
An increase in costs for the commercial sector
Subsidisation from the block grant (if necessary)
A rejection of water meters

  • None of this makes any sense. Rejection of water meters, flat out? Linked to ratable value? Why?! That’s a tax, not a charge.

    It sounds like they’re trying to make water charging sound more attractive by making the alternatives seem as unpalatable or impractical as possible, which is the exact same situation we had under direct rule!

  • RSR

    Speaking as a civil engineer, people should remember that the water they get from their taps doesn’t just magically get there. It has to go through treatment processes to make it safe to drink and then theres the cost of conveying it to your tap through a huge network of pipes, pumps and reservoirs.
    All this has to be paid for in some way but would have to say that the only fair way to do this is to base it on how much people use, not on the value of their house or their income. Metering is the only fair way to do this.
    This would involve the installation of a serious amount of water meters at a significant cost.
    Then there is the EU Water and Wastewater directives, which if not met can lead to huge fines until they are.
    What do we do? charge people extra so the required upgrades can be carried out to meet the requirements or just forget about it and “pour water down the drain” in fines?

  • willowfield

    So we’ve been paying about £160 a year for water from our rates – sounds about right. And the rest has been subsidised by the Exchequer.

    Disgrace that there appear to be no plans for metering.

  • I Wonder

    There ARE plans for metering, focussing on elderly people. Its just that this panel of “experts” doesn’t want charging in any shape or form, even if it is based on actual usage.

  • George

    Water is actually the cheapest element in all this. It’s the infrastructure that costs all the cash.

    So even if metering people reduces the amount of water used, it won’t actually reduce the overall cost by very much.

    Metering is a red herring when it comes to actually paying for water.

  • willowfield

    Not sure that it’s a red herring – is anyone claiming that metering will reduce the overall cost of supplying water? (It will probably increase it slightly due to the cost of meter installation.)

    The point is that metering offers the fairest way of determining how much each consumer pays relative to other consumers, i.e. those who use most, pay most, as is the case with gas and electricity.

  • URQUHART

    George: “Metering is a red herring when it comes to actually paying for water.”

    that’s probably true in terms of cost, but there is another, associated issue of conservation and encouraging people to actually use less water. Metering would have a very beneficial impact on that.

  • runciter

    All this has to be paid for in some way but would have to say that the only fair way to do this is to base it on how much people use, not on the value of their house or their income.

    If the charge is based on usage, then usage will inevitably be affected by ability to pay.

    Access to clean water for drinking and washing should not be dependent on income. It is essential not only for the health and well-being of the individual, but also of society as a whole.

  • I Wonder

    The cost of metering was put, I think, at about £130 million. That money might be better spent fixing the leaky pipes and getting water to folks in the first place?

  • willowfield

    Runciter

    That issue should be dealt with through the social security system.

  • George

    Willowfield,
    why is metering the fairest way of billing consumers when the overwhelming cost comes from the infrastructure needed to bring the water?

    There is no fairness in selecting the cheapest element in a process and deducing the overall cost from the amount a person uses of this element.

    Urquhart,
    I understand where you are coming from but why a meter to change the way people think?

    Meters, in my view, should be used to track the amount of water going into an area and the amount going out so as to find leaks that would otherwise go unnoticed.

    This would be more economical as less meters would be needed and would achieve a similar result.

    If you want to save water, make cisterns smaller. Offer free repair of leaky taps (a dripping tap wastes 7,000 litres of water a year, for example.)

    Set up something similar to the Tidy Towns project where towns are rewarded for reducing their overall water usage.

  • Garibaldy

    “The Water Company to reduce costs by 40% and sell off assets”

    But of course the introduction of water charges is completely unrelated to the likelihood of privitisation, and in no way are they trying to fatten it up for another wasteful sell off of state assets at deflated prices to the private sector, which can then screw the customer royally and make huge profits.

    And who said Thatcherism was dead?

  • willowfield

    George

    why is metering the fairest way of billing consumers when the overwhelming cost comes from the infrastructure needed to bring the water?

    Because those using most water make most use of the infrastructure.

    GARIBALDY

    But of course the introduction of water charges is completely unrelated to the likelihood of privitisation [sic], and in no way are they trying to fatten it up for another wasteful [sic] sell off of state assets at deflated prices to the private sector, which can then screw the customer royally and make huge profits.

    I don’t think privatisation is likely. None of the parties supports it.

  • George

    Willowfield,
    The cost here is the infrastructure, not the use.

    Reducing the use will not reduce the cost. This is not the same as things like electricity and gas.

    In fact, using meters may well reduce the use minimally (much, much more will be lost through leaks to the infrastructure) but increase the cost as it will make the infrastructure even more expensive.

    I don’t mind. You’ll be the one paying, not me.

  • willowfield

    It doesn’t follow that installation of meters means you don’t fix leaks.

    The cost is partly the infrastructure, but those who use the most water make most use of the infrastructure (it is through the infrastructure that the water is delivered to the property, and through the infrastructure that water leaves the property).

    Of course other significant costs include treatment, both of the water being used by consumers and of waste water that consumers have used.

    In fact, using meters may well reduce the use minimally (much, much more will be lost through leaks to the infrastructure) but increase the cost as it will make the infrastructure even more expensive.

    The costs of a meter will not be that much per household and will be a one-off expense.

    And the argument for meters isn’t really about reducing costs to the consumer, it’s about water conservation. You seem to be conflating two issues.

    I don’t mind. You’ll be the one paying, not me.

    I don’t mind paying for a meter in the interests of the environment.

  • Garibaldy

    Willowfield,

    None of the parties supported water charges, or to give them their proper name, a second charge for the provision of water, but we’re going to get them. Can we really say that either the DUP or the UUP has any principled opposition to privitisation? As for the SDLP and PSF, whatever the public stances, we’ve seen them apply PFI without a batted eyelid. So I wouldn’t rule privitisation out in the slightest, although it may be delayed until we have gotten use to the double charges for a few years.

  • willowfield

    None of the parties supported water charges, or to give them their proper name, a second charge for the provision of water, but we’re going to get them.

    True, but that was the result of a combination of opportunism and ignorance. Those with a better understanding of realities knew that there is no credible means of continuing to subiside the public’s water use in NI through Exchequer funding when everyone else in the UK has to pay for it all themselves.

    Incidentally, it’s only a second charge for the provision of water because the first charge didn’t cover the costs.

    On privatisation, I suppose you make a fair enough point – we should never rule anything out in the medium or long term. It’s possible to envisage a situation in which it would be tempting for the Executive to raise revenue by selling off the company. Nonetheless, on balance, I still don’t think it’s likely.

  • runciter

    That issue should be dealt with through the social security system.

    So social security – rather than the water service – should be responsible for ensuring that people have access to clean water?

    How do you arrive at this bizarre conclusion?

  • willowfield

    No, don’t be silly. The Water Service should be responsible for providing clean water. The social security system should ensure that people have sufficient income to pay for essential goods and services, including water.

  • runciter

    The social security system should ensure that people have sufficient income to pay for essential goods and services, including water.

    The more sensible and cost-effective alternative is surely for the state to continue to provide such services free-of-charge.

    The solution you are proposing is bureaucratic, economically inefficient, and vulnerable to abuse.

  • willowfield

    The more sensible and cost-effective alternative is surely for the state to continue to provide such services free-of-charge.

    The state does not provide such services free-of-charge: we are charged rates to pay (thus far in part) for the service.

    Cost-effective for whom? Not for NI as a whole, since subsidising water (or – as per your suggestion – providing to users free of charge) from the block grant means we have less money to spend on other public services such as the health service.

    I suggest that it is not credible to reduce the funds available for other public services in order to allow citizens in NI to receive free a utility for which citizens elsewhere in the UK have to pay.

    The solution you are proposing is bureaucratic, economically inefficient, and vulnerable to abuse.

    I find this statement bizarre.

    How is it “bureaucratic” to install water meters and to provide for the Water Service to bill customers for usage (as happens with other utilities)?

    How is it “economically inefficient” to provide water meters?

    And how is it “vulnerable to abuse” any more than any other utility meter?

  • I Wonder

    I sense anti-service prejudice 🙂

  • runciter

    The state does not provide such services free-of-charge

    Water is not directly charged for in this country. It is free-of-charge the same way primary school or secondary school education is free-of-charge.

    subsidising water from the block grant means we have less money to spend on other public services such as the health service.

    Which has nothing to do with cost-effectiveness.

    I suggest that it is not credible…

    Credibility is a PR issue.

    How is it “bureaucratic”…etc

    The installation of water meters will be costly. The administration of meters and charging will be costly and bureaucratic.

    Managing social security contributions would bureaucratic, economically inefficient (transferring public money from one dept to another via an external agent introduces transaction costs at two points), and (like any form of social security payment) vulnerable to abuse.

  • willowfield

    Water is (partly) paid for by householders out of the rates, so it’s not free.

  • I wonder…

    “The administration of meters and charging will be costly and bureaucratic.”

    Not…erm…necessarily.

    Both Phoenix and NIE..erm….meter their customers…erm…

    Pure unargued assertion.

    The question is whether spending the amount of money I mentioned eaerlier for universal water/sewerage metering is worth it.

    Perhaps it is, if it results, as it would, in people paying for what they consume/discard (as long as the entire cost of the service is covered.)

  • Garibaldy

    Water metering or water rates is a regressive form of taxation. Something we all need roughly the same amount of, like food, but a huge difference in proportion of income. Particularly where a pensioner on their own, say, or large poorer families, are concerned. The fairest way is to raise the money for this is from those best able to afford it.

  • Animus

    Metering will not necessarily save money, particularly older people, who will be entitled to an affordability tariff. Meters are only a way to measure.

  • Garibaldy – water is a utility like electricity and gas. If people want unlimited water they should put out rain barrels.

    Here in Toronto water is metered and a lot of people have acquired rain barrels for stuff like watering lawns, and the City will give you a rebate if you change a standard toilet for a low-flow one.

  • Garibaldy

    Mark,

    I didn’t say that people should not be charged according to their use. I said that a fairer way of paying for the whole system – by which I mean in particular the infrastructure – would be to charge those who are best able to afford it more. i.e. progressive and not regressive taxation.

    It’s a bit like the old salt monopoly and other forms of taxation on basics that were done away with in the past as unfair. And part of the reason why VAT is an unfair way to raise revenue.

  • Animus

    Garibaldy – ability to pay is important, but not all important. I think water meters can be fair and are likely to lead to responsible usage. But I don’t think that because you have a huge family and don’t earn much that you should get the whole lot for free. If I am using a small amount for my small family, how much should I be subsidising a larger, poorer family?

  • Garibaldy

    I’m proposing Animus that the infrastructure is maintained out of the money we already pay for it in rates, and from general taxation.

    I’m not in favour of water meters though the most acceptable aspect of them would be the encouragement of more careful usage.

    Society is a collective contract in the interests of all. That entails redistribution of resources in favour of the public good.

  • you can buy a water meter in the local hardware can’t you, it will help you reduce by knowing how much you use,

    that doesn’t mean you should charge for it or privatise it…