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Check price rises, water firms urged

Source BBC News@

Running tapThe regulator is predicting a reduction in household water bills from 2015

Water firms have been urged to "look closely" at what level of price rises need to be made and introduce special tariffs for struggling households.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has written to companies calling on them to recognise the strain on households.

"Keeping water bills affordable is a crucial way we can help hardworking people," he said.

It comes after regulator Ofwat asked firms to consider whether they need to apply price rises in full next year.

'Fair deal'

Mr Paterson said: "We are pressing hard to make sure customers get a fair deal by encouraging water companies to look closely at any price increases, introduce social tariffs for vulnerable customers and crack down on bad debt."

Later this week Ofwat is expected to reject a bid by Thames Water to increase bills by an average of £29 a year in 2014-15.

Unlike gas and electricity, households cannot switch their water supplier.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said average increases in water and sewerage bills had been in line with inflation since the 2009 price review but had substantially outstripped increases in household income.

Labour's shadow environment secretary, Maria Eagle, has called on Mr Cameron to "require water companies to introduce a social tariff to help those who are struggling".

She said Labour would seek to amend the forthcoming Water Bill legislation to "require all water companies to participate in a national affordability scheme and review whether there is a need for a tougher regulatory regime". Party leader Ed Miliband is expected to repeat the call for a special tariff in a speech later on Tuesday.

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