Water bills increase 15 per cent as consumption recovers
14 December 2012
Victorian households used more water in 2011-12 after years of drought-induced restrictions, according to a report by the independent water regulator, the Essential Services Commission (ESC).
The Commission’s report on Victoria’s 16 urban water businesses found that weighted average household consumption across Victoria increased from 143 kilolitres (kL) in 2010-11 to 150 kL in 2011-12, reversing the trend of declining consumption between 2006-07 and 2010-11.
Average household consumption remained higher in regional Victoria (174 kL per household, up from 157 kL in 2010-11), than in metropolitan Melbourne, where average household consumption rose from 138 kL to 142 kL.
As consumption increased, annual household water and sewerage bills increased across the state by $115, on a weighted average basis, from $770 in 2010-11 to $885 in 2011-12.
Average household bills across all urban water businesses ranged from $759 to $1185, with the lowest average water bills reported for customers of Goulburn Valley Water ($759), Lower Murray Water ($770) and City West Water ($793).
As in 2010-11, the highest average water and sewerage bills were for customers of Gippsland Water ($1185) and Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water and Central Highlands Water (both $1096).
In Melbourne, water customers had among the highest annual increases in their water and sewerage bills, with bills for Yarra Valley Water, South East Water and City Water increasing by $147, $107 and $104 respectively.
Household water bills have increased since 2008-09 as water businesses invested in major capital projects to increase water security during drought periods and upgrade sewerage infrastructure and water treatment plants.
ESC Chief Executive Officer David Heeps said the range in the level of household bills could be attributed to a number of factors, including the cost to service different regions, customer density, sources of water and usage.
In its 2011-12 Water Performance Report, the Commission tracked a range of indicators submitted by the businesses, including service and water quality standards, average annual household water consumption and average household water bills.
The report also recorded the level of supply restrictions imposed by water businesses on customers who did not pay their water bills.
In 2011-12, a total of 2381 domestic customers (including 370 customers on concession) and 64 non-domestic customers had their water supply restricted for non-payment of water bills. This was an increase on 2010-11 figures, with 313 more domestic customers having their water supply restricted.
Lower Murray Water had the highest rate of domestic water supply restrictions of any water business, with 0.59 restrictions per 100 domestic customers. Legal action was taken against 817 customers across Victoria in 2011-12 for non-payment of water bills – 46 more than for the previous year.
Water businesses approved 18,431 hardship grants in 2011-12, up from 12,141 the previous year. Yarra Valley Water had the most extensive hardship grant scheme, accounting for 83 per cent of the total number of grants approved, at an average value of $97.
During 2011-12, the Commission strengthened its Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) scheme, to increase the water businesses’ incentives to adequately address payment difficulties experienced by customers facing higher water bills.
The scheme operates as a virtual ‘safety net’ to protect customers in hardship in the event of potential action by water businesses to restrict supply or take legal action for unpaid water bills.
Mr Heeps said all urban water businesses were obliged to comply with the Victoria-wide customer service code for water users, to provide for customers in financial hardship.
“Water bills have risen substantially in recent years, so businesses are encouraged to act early and work closely with customers who are unable to pay their water bills, including through the identification and establishment of a financial hardship plan,” he said.
The Commission is presently considering the water businesses’ pricing and service proposals for the five-year period to apply from 1 July 2013