Devon and Cornwall MPs call for water bills help

Running water
Image caption Torbay MP Adrian Sanders said many water customers were facing a bill of more than £1,000

MPs from Devon and Cornwall have urged the government to do more to support people struggling to pay water charges.

Regulator industry Ofwat announced last month that South West Water (SWW) could put bills up.

Torbay's Adrian Sanders led a debate where MPs including St Ives MP Andrew George and Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston raised concerns over pricing.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said the government would be publishing water industry proposals very shortly.

'National asset'

SWW's customers - who live across Cornwall, Devon and parts of Dorset and Somerset - have some of the highest bills in Britain.

They pay for the upkeep of 30% of England's coastline, even though they make up only 3% of the population.

An announcement by Ofwat last month will result in an average rise of £25 per household. The company said it needed money to improve its facilities and infrastructure.

At the special debate at the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders said many customers were "facing a bill of more than £1,000".

He said: "That's reflecting a range of circumstances, such as medical conditions that mean having larger amounts of water to simply having a larger family."

Conservative Dr Wollaston added that some of the nation's least well-off families paid for the upkeep of beaches largely used by holidaymakers.

Dr Wollaston said nobody denied the benefits of cleaner beaches and the economic boost that SWW's clean-up work brought.

She added: "What is clearly unfair is that the burden of that necessary programme should fall on our constituents."

Liberal Democrat Mr George said the coastline was a national asset and should be paid for nationally.

He said: "It you compare it with the National Gallery or British Museum, which are funded out of national taxation, we in the South West have to protect a national asset on the basis of 3% of the population."

Labour MPs Alison Seabeck, who represents Plymouth Moor View, and Exeter's Ben Bradshaw, also raised concerns.

Mr Benyon told the Commons: "These are difficult issues with no simple solutions."

He added that schemes were available to help those struggling to pay bills and that he would take up cases raised by the MPs.

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