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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