|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 1102be pleased to know that Southern Water, in common with all water undertakers involved in the trials, has taken action to ensure that customers, especially the elderly, would not be at risk from bogus workmen or officials.
All employees and contractors requiring access to customers' property have been issued with photopasses. These must be clearly displayed before entering a property. Southern Water has also set up a freephone service to enable any householder to check the authenticity of callers. Even so, not enough people ask to see proof of identity before allowing workmen to enter their homes. In all cases, Southern Water gives advance notice of visits requiring internal access. In addition, all contractors have been asked to give assurances that the workmen engaged on the trials do not have a criminal record.
Because of the size of the Isle of Wight trial, the installation phase will not be complete until April next year. However, customers are being charged on a measured basis from 1 April this year and as meters are installed. Those customers who have paid their rateable value-based charges in advance will receive a rebate for the period when charging by volume commenced.
Meter reading and billing will be every six months, with the first bills being sent out in early October. My hon. Friend suggested that metered billing should be delayed until all customers on the island are metered. Although I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern that all his constituents should be treated equally, such a proposition may not be a practical option with a programme of large-scale metering. For example, if Southern Water decided to meter all its supply area over a 20-year period, it clearly would not wait until the completion of the programme before starting metered billing. All that it would do would be to increase the cost of the exercise and frustrate those customers who are keen to start paying by measure.
My hon. Friend asked about income support. He will be aware that income support does not include separate provision for individual amounts payable, as was the case under supplementary benefit. Instead, when setting the benefit rates, account was taken of the overall amount spent in supplementary benefit on water charges. We feel that, as water charges are among the many elements of a claimant's basic commitments where expenditure varies, there is no reason to make special provision for them to be met separately. Income support claimants are now responsible for paying their charges themselves out of their weekly benefit.
The purpose of income support is to provide help for people whose income, from all sources, is below a minimum level. Benefit is therefore payable on the basis of need. The main components of a person's requirements are the personal allowances and, if appropriate, the premiums. I am certain that my hon. Friend does not want to use our time this evening to discuss the merits or otherwise of individual claims. However, I give him an undertaking that, if he is concerned about specific cases, and if he will write to me with full details, I will ensure that his concerns are answered.
What I can do, very briefly, is give an indication of the level of income support that a typical family could receive. For that purpose, if we consider a typical family to be one with two parents and three children under 11, the parents would initially be entitled to £54.80 per week in income support, and could claim a further £41.75 per week in child benefit--a total of £96.55. However, child benefit would be
Column 1103considered as part of a reduction in the level of income support paid to the family. The net effect would be that the family would receive benefits totalling £74.80 per week. Such a family could expect to use between 200 and 250 cu m of water a year, which equates to a charge of about £4 to £5 per week.
Clearly, as the trials are still at an early stage, it would be wrong to make any formal impression or draw any firm conclusions about the trials at this particular time. Information is being collected and will continue to be collected on all aspects of the trials. It will be made widely available in a series of reports by the water industry.
The Isle of Wight trial is the one trial that has attracted most attention because of its size and importance to the metering trial programme. It also affects a large number of people. However, I am sure that the House is now far wiser
Column 1104about the developments of the Isle of Wight trial, as well as the other trial areas, from the interesting debate we have had tonight and from the continued excellent and perceptive contribution made by my hon. Friend on this subject. I again congratulate him on bringing this subject to the attention of the House.
The question of the metering trial is usually one of the matters raised by my hon. Friend when we meet, and I probably know more about the trial on the Isle of Wight than about any of the other trial areas. I am also pleased to reiterate that I shall have an opportunity to look at the trial area with my hon. Friend during a visit to the island shortly.
Once again I say to my hon. Friend that I am grateful for his invitation. I apologise for the swiftness of my reply, but that has only been because my hon. Friend has been as assiduous as ever in raising so many subjects.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Four o'clock.
|Written Answers Section