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No showers for bill dodgers

October 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Ofwat is to vote on whether water companies should be able to restrict the flow of water to householders who refuse to pay their utility bills. The regulator is aiming to recoup £1 billion in customer arrears.

Under current law, it is illegal to deprive homeowners of essential resources, including clean fresh water, but a recent review of the industry suggested removing the ban on trickle flow devices (TFDs).

TFDs are designed to prevent naughty customers from using showers, baths, and washing machines, but it necessitates a debate on human rights, begging the question: should everybody be allowed unfettered access to clean water?

Morally, yes, but the water companies want their money back. Since TFDs were banned in 1999, Ofwat has watched bad debts climb into the billions, adding an average of £11 a year to the nation’s water bill.

Critics have labelled the plan ‘uncivilised,’ suggesting that the return of TFDs is just another way of making money from hard-up customers. The Consumer Council for Water, the public’s voice in the water industry, has urged Ofwat not to return to heavy-handed measures:

“Even if the water companies were able to identify with 100% clarity which customers are refusing to pay, that’s not to say that the kids of those customers deserve to be in a household where water is reduced to a trickle.”

The council also noted that a large proportion of unpaid bills involve innocent people – householders moving from one property to another may leave a hefty bill behind for the new owners.

Ofwat will have to consult with the government before the ban on trickle flow devices can be overturned.

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Shower power campaign encourages water-saving

October 23, 2009 at 4:34 am

Despite the lack of sunshine this summer, water shortages are once again hitting the headlines, with parts of the South East so short of water that they are being likened Morocco and Egypt.

We are all familiar with being asked to turn off the hosepipe, fix dripping taps and be a bit more frugal with the washing machine. The business of saving water can, however, seem a bit serious so it’s good to see someone has been having a more lighthearted look at our bathroom habits in the interests of water conservation.

A project championed by athlete Kriss Akabusi has discovered that, contrary to popular belief, women spend only fractionally more time in the shower than men. On average ladies linger for 39 extra seconds compared with their male counterparts and 26% shower in five minutes or less. For the full statistics and to calculate how much water you use in the shower, visit the Waterwise website.

Kriss Akabusi was surprised at the amount of time some Britons spend in the shower. He said that while many people, like himself, only take five minutes to shower, he was “amazed” to learn of “the worrying number who think nothing of taking anything between 15 and 30 minutes”.

For those of us on a water meter, reducing showering times has definite financial benefits. And while leaving the tap running when you are brushing your teeth certainly wastes water, dawdling in the shower has the added down-side of squandering energy. By reducing the time you spend in the shower, you save electricity (or gas) and trim a little off your fuel bill as well as your water costs.

The campaign is also promoting the use of innovative showerheads which reduce water consumption, and encouraging everyone to keep an eye on the clock each time they wash. Using an ecocamel showerhead it’s estimated that the average household could save between £140 and £250 per year. And you can stop all that water going down the plughole for an initial outlay of just 25 quid!

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Cyanide scare in River Trent

October 15, 2009 at 10:58 am

Fishermen on the River Trent in Staffordshire were first to notice a potential catastrophe for the river environment on Mon 5th Oct. They saw fish gasping “like canaries in a mine” and alerted the Environment Agency, which tested the water and found cyanide levels high enough to poison marine life.

The river is home to various types of fish, including salmon, trout, roach and perch, as well as other wildlife such as otters and kingfishers.

The cyanide was found to have entered the river at a water treatment plant at Strongford after being discharged into the public sewer system. The situation was exacerbated by the cyanide killing off the bacteria used to treat raw sewage, meaning that unprocessed effluent also entered the river.

Environment Agency staff have been working round the clock to control the damage and an investigation is now under way to discover who is responsible for releasing the deadly chemical. An Environment Agency spokesperson has said that they suspect a factory associated with metal production to be responsible, whilst Mark Owen of the Angling Trust went a step further and said that the blame was likely to lie with a steel polishing works which is licensed to handle cyanide. It is hoped that sufficient evidence will be unearthed to allow a successful prosecution.

Thousands of fish have died and, although the river is not used for drinking water, farmers, dog walkers and boaters were warned to keep away from the 30 mile stretch affected. The RSPCA has asked members of the public to contact them if they see any animals in distress as a result of the pollution.

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Customer complaints down last year

October 9, 2009 at 4:02 am

The Consumer Council for Water has released new figures stating that complaints to water companies overall went down last year compared to the previous year. However, there are still a number of companies that are not performing well enough.

The amount of complaints across the board fell by 15% last year. Complaints in most categories went down overall, although when it came to metering complaints did not fall.

A number of companies drastically improved their complaints levels after overcoming problems in previous years, and this was responsible for improving the average across the board.

Of the companies that did not perform so well, United Utilities was the main offender with complaints going up by 36%. Other companies that did not maintain their performance included Southern Water, South West Water and South East Water, which all had the highest number of complaints per 1,000 customers.

The companies that saw the largest drop in complaints included Severn Trent Water with a 40% drop, Thames Water with a 27% drop, and Southern Water with a 48% drop. However, despite the huge reduction, Southern Water’s complaints level was still high compared to other companies.

The chair of the Consumer Council for Water, Dame Yve Buckland, said that things were going in the right direction, but that some customers were still suffering unnecessarily.

She said that it was “encouraging” to see that so many companies were improving their complaints levels. She also revealed that nine out of 10 customers were satisfied with the service provided by their water company.

However, she singled out South East Water for criticism, because it has a high level of complaints despite just being a water provider without dealing with sewage.

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Too much water for thirsty south

October 1, 2009 at 1:26 am

Government officials are to field a new advertising campaign, urging Britons to reduce their average water consumption by twenty litres a day.

Costing £1m, the scheme will draw attention to indulgent water use and its consequences; namely, the destruction of aquatic ecosystems throughout the UK.

Regulatory agency, Defra, otherwise known as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will orchestrate the campaign, which could force the installation of millions of water meters over the next few years.

Global Warming

Experts believe that British rivers are being put under pressure by an ever-increasing demand for fresh water from new-build houses. This is damaging the local environment and permanently reducing the quality of riverine and wetland sites around the UK.

Special criticism was reserved for the South of England. On an average day, wealthy Londoners use up to 24 litres more than householders in the North.

The campaign is also closely tied to the eternal battle against global warming – as 5% of carbon dioxide gases are produced from domestic water heating, Defra is keen to unite energy efficiency and water retention schemes under the same banner.

Leaky Pipes

Taxpayers are, of course, sceptical. Visitors to the Times Online website have complained about the conduct of major water companies, content to supplement their charges with maintenance fees, but lax in their efforts to fix leaky pipes.

As millions of litres of water are lost to bad plumbing every day, few householders can be blamed for withholding their promises to turn green and use a litre less for their morning cup of tea.

Defra advises customers to switch off the tap when brushing their teeth, and to fill kettles with ‘just enough’ water. Avoiding hosepipes and sprinklers, and cutting shower times by one minute could also help reduce the nation’s water bill.

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