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Are YOU avoiding your water bill? Should water be *free*?

Published 21st January 2011 - 20 comments - 17340 views -

In the UK, water is not free nor is it paid for through taxes. Instead, each residence gets an annual water bill which can be paid either outright or in monthly instalments. The price of water for each property for one year can be between £100-400 depending on your average usage and the occupancy of your property. A 1-bedroomed apartment will obviously pay less than a 4-bedroomed house. The company which provides the water and cleans it, is the privately-owned Thames Water meaning they profit from the sale of water. Should water be a free HUMAN RIGHT? Or is it right/fair that we should pay for it - and even a private company too?


London's water provider has announced a six-week amnesty for unbilled residents to honestly come forward to set up their water accounts now to avoid huge backdated water bills.

Have you been living in a house for the last two years and not paid your water bill because well, you've just never received one? If so, you may be in for a shock. 

The fact that the water company has not sent you a bill does not mean that fault automatically lies with them. In fact, if they find out that you've been living there and not paying for your water, they can issue you with a backdated bill from the day you moved in.

These are harsh words of warning from London's privately-owned water supplier, Thames Water.

But in an unprecedented move, the firm has today announced that it is offering a six-week amnesty to any customers who have been escaping receipt of their water bill. One of the reasons a person may have never received a water bill, is because the company had not been informed when a house had been divided into flats and thus separate accounts were never established.

Mike Tempest, customer services director at Thames Water, said: "We are going to walk every street in our region over the next three months, checking our records against the addresses and door bells. When we find unbilled residential customers we can and will back-charge them to the date that they moved into the property, going back for up to six years."

But what about the amnesty agreement?

"Under the six-week amnesty we're launching, the really good news for these customers is that we'll waive all back charges provided they agree to be billed and pay for their water and waste water from now on. This is the first amnesty of its kind in the UK water industry.”

Energy and water companies are often seen as pariahs in our community, extolling a seemingly buy-now-pay-later environmental virtue or lack thereof and their public images are not in the slightest way positive. But with a six-week amnesty strategically put forward by the company, it is hard to fault their methods in a moral term. Do you disagree with the hunting of water-bill dodgers? Or should people who have avoided paying for their water, take responsibility for their share of the world's usage and wastage and pay up from the moment they moved in?

On the subject of pursuing the unpaid bills, Tempest continued: “We have got two main reasons for doing it. Firstly, we want our bills to be as affordable as possible - and the extra income we get from currently unbilled customers will help achieve that. Secondly, we need an accurate picture of where our water goes in each part of our network: if it's going to customers, we want it to be recorded as such, rather than being unaccounted for."

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  • Pabitra Mukhopadhyay on 21st January 2011:

    Kolkata, my home city, which was fashioned much after London by the colonial British, does not charge the municipal population for potable water till date. There is always the debate and political see-saw over charging the residents of the city for water use but somehow that still did not happen. However, many believe that Kolkata Municipal Corporation chrage the cost of water purification and supply hidden in municipal taxes.

    Thames Water’s plans to catch the water bill dodgers is interesting. But it cannot escape the fair debate that free access to safe and clean water for living is now recognized as a fundamental human right. How one can be charged for such a public good?

    Or if such billing is permissible, can some company open up tomorrow and charge Londoner’s a safety fee for protection against rape, armed robbery or arson?

    Can a company in some part of the world charge people for 6 hours of sun?

  • Lara Smallman on 21st January 2011:

    Sun is free, it comes at no cost. Water costs money to collect, purify and distribute, and so it make sense that we are charged for it, in the same way as we are charged for food (which is also a human right). The point is, we should be charged a fair price for these things.

    As for protection of Londoners (and everyone else), that comes out of the public purse, in other words taxes. (And there are private companies offering protection, security and insurance)

    (Almost) nothing is free Pabitra!

  • Diêgo Lôbo Goiabeira on 22nd January 2011:

    As Lara said, it is acceptable and expected the fact of water being charged for its distribution. In Brazil it is the same thing, but different than some other countries, it is in our constitution that water has economic value, it means people can be charged for using. But well, most part of the water used is used in agriculture, and they are not charged.

  • Sylwia Presley on 04th February 2011:

    I have experiences serious issues with Thames Water in Oxfordshire few years ago - they simply would not be able to identify my meters, so I could not really check if I am paying the right amount of money…pretty upsetting that people have to pay the backlog, but I guess in the UK it’s not the only provider having issues like that and one has to always double-check all bills…

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