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Lord Whitty: These amendments deal with the consideration of rateable value. Amendment No. 22 would delete the deadline of the year 2000 as set out in the Bill, and replace it with the year 2005. By resisting this amendment the Government are not saying that we have a preference for the rateable value system for unmeasured charges, or indeed, any other system. By deleting the reference to the year 2000 we are not indicating that rateable value should be the only or the main way forward in the longer term.
We are prepared for water companies to introduce other forms of charging, including as the noble Baroness would seem to prefer, charges based on council tax bands. However, we would not wish to rush into anything approaching a mandatory system or a requirement whereby such unmeasured charges would be based on council taxes. The effects of that on individual consumers would be differential and it would not necessarily be desirable either to customers or supplying companies.
We believe that we need to retain a range of measures for unmeasured charges, which would include rateable value, taking into account the problems that have been recognised. At present, it is still the case that the vast majority of households pay a charge which is based on the rateable value of the property. We have no objections to different forms of calculation; indeed, we are encouraging the water companies and others to come forward with such alternatives. However, to cast in stone a date by which time water companies must find a replacement system does not seem to us to be a sensible way forward. We want to retain as much flexibility as possible and a new arbitrary deadline would not help.
As I said, that does not mean that we are inherently hostile to the use of council tax bands as the basis for unmeasured charges. Clearly we want to explore, and encourage others to explore, the possibilities in that respect.
Amendment No. 24 relates to the information that water companies would use if they wanted to examine the possibility of going down the council tax-based road. The noble Baroness's amendment would provide a system which, in many ways, parallels what the Government are proposing in any event. We do not believe that we need the amendment to deliver our policy. Indeed, the information on council tax bands is already public. It is simply a question, as the amendment recognises, of it being available in computer-readable form. However, as well as being available through individual local authorities, information on council tax banding is also held centrally by the Valuation Office in an electronic form.
As I said earlier, we are open to proposals for the use of council tax banding as a basis of charging. The amendment also seems to envisage that the Secretary of State should be able to make regulations empowering undertakers to charge on the basis of bands. That is unnecessary. The way in which we propose to proceed is to encourage companies to devise such schemes. When satisfied with the proposal of a particular company the data on banding would be made available and arrangements for using it as a basis for charging could be included in the company's charges scheme, along with any changes. There is already a power to give guidance and make regulations as to what may or may not be in a charges scheme. That power could be used to govern what would be acceptable in a council tax band based charges scheme. Therefore, we do not consider that Amendment No. 24 is necessary.
Under the Bill as it stands, existing occupiers using water for normal purposes in existing homes will have a right to remain on an unmeasured basis of charging once they are on one, without needing the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. But because water companies have been fitting meters to new houses, most properties that do not have a rateable value are in practice already metered. As I read it, this amendment does not propose to give the occupier of a property that is already metered any right to be charged on the basis of rateable value. That seems a little illogical because, without that right, obtaining a notional rateable value would be of limited use.
In the future, as regards properties built after this Bill comes into force, companies might continue to be attracted to metering. If a home buyer particularly objects to metering, it is up to him not to buy a particular property. There are circumstances where new properties are subject to a different form of unmeasured charge. As we explore other possibilities in this context, including council tax bands, that provision may be more widely available. At least one company, Welsh Water, widely uses an unmeasured charge which is not based on rateable value for those properties where no rateable value is available and in circumstances where neither the company nor the occupier wishes to meter.
We do not think that creating a new range of notional rateable values--as Amendment No. 23 seeks to do--would in reality create any new rights for consumers. Water companies can already devise and propose what unmeasured bases of charging they wish. I hope that I have addressed most of the points raised by the noble Baroness's amendments. I hope that she will consider they are either unnecessary or do not achieve the point she seeks to make. I therefore ask her to withdraw the amendments.
Baroness Hamwee: The Minister says that Amendment No. 23 would not create a new right for consumers. However, the amendment is designed precisely to create a new right for consumers. However, it is perhaps one of the less important amendments in this group.
As regards Amendment No. 22, the Government are being open about not being great fans of using rateable value as a basis for charging. However, the Committee is well aware of the pressures on legislative time. It is a quite human response of any government, to address other matters if no time limit is in place and a system shows no sign of breaking down and has been examined
Amendment No. 24 may seem a detailed provision which does not directly address the point of this Bill. I am concerned to ensure that we do not miss the opportunity to allow companies fully to explore what other methods may be available to them. The Minister said that the relevant information is already in the public domain. My concern is that although that is the case it takes a great deal of effort, and therefore cost, to extract that information as one has to ask questions on a property-by-property basis. I assume that applies to information held by the valuation offices as well as to information held by local authorities.
I shall read the Minister's comments in Hansard. However, as regards making the relevant information available in the way I propose, I am not sure that the Secretary of State can undertake to do that at present, or whether that requires some legislative provision to be introduced. If such a legislative provision is required, we should introduce it in this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--
Requirements For Reselling WAter Supplied By Undertaker
The noble Lord said: This amendment seeks to provide certain information to people who live in rented accommodation or on a mobile home park and whose landlord has already purchased the water that they use. Ofwat wants more information to be supplied to such people to enable them to ensure that they are not being overcharged. Ofwat seeks the imposition of an order under Section 150 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to control the price charged for water supplied to customers of a water undertaker; that is, someone who resells the water to third parties. Although perhaps not common, this situation occurs, as I have already mentioned.
(" . After subsection (5) of section 150 of the Water Industry Act 1991 (charging for services provided with the help of an undertaker), there is inserted--
"(6) An order under this section may--
(a) require any person who resells water supplied by a water undertaker to furnish the purchaser with such information as may be specified or described in the order; and
(b) provide that, in the event of his failing to do so, the maximum price applicable to the resale shall be such as may be specified in the order, or shall be reduced by such amount or such percentage as may be so specified."").
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