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Household water consumption stabilises as bills rise
13 December 2010
Victorians’ household water consumption stabilised in 2009-10 as drought conditions eased across the state, according to a report issued today by the independent water regulator, the Essential Services Commission (ESC).
The Commission report on Victoria’s 16 urban water businesses found that average household consumption across Victoria dropped from 157 kilolitres (kL) in 2008-09 to 152 kL in 2009-10, while household bills rose through annual water price increases of between five and 24 percent.
Household water bills increased in 2008-09 and 2009-10 as water businesses invested in capital projects to increase water security and upgrade sewerage infrastructure and water treatment plants.
The report found that average household consumption in the Melbourne metropolitan area fell from 147 kL to 142 kL and from 184 kL to 180 kL a year in regional Victoria during 2009-10.
While the annual average household consumption dropped three percent statewide, average consumption has dropped 25 percent on the 2005-06 figure of 204 kL a year.
Customers in the Lower Murray Water, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water (GWM Water) and CentralHighlands Water zones increased their consumption in 2009-10 as their water authorities eased water restrictions.
For the same year, the Commission’s Water Performance Report found that average household water bills for owner-occupiers ranged from $597 to $1049 for the urban water businesses operating in Victoria.
Households in the City West Water area registered the lowest average annual household bills of $597, just below those of South East Water ($619), Yarra Valley Water ($649) and Goulburn Valley Water ($654).
The highest average household water bills were issued by Gippsland Water ($1049), followed by Central Highlands Water ($951) and GWM Water ($941). Customers of Gippsland Water experienced the sharpest jump in annual household water bills (24%), while South Gippsland experienced the lowest increase (5%). Households in metropolitan Melbourne experienced increases of between 13 and 19 percent in their household water bills.
ESC Chief Executive Officer David Heeps said the range of household bills could be attributed to a number of factors, including the cost to service different regions, customer density and sources of water.
In its 2009-10 Water Performance Report of water retailers, 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 tracked the level of restrictions imposed by water businesses on customers who did not pay their water bills.
In 2009-10, a total 3236 domestic customers (including 555 customers on concession) and 70 non-domestic customers had their water supply restricted for non-payment of water bills.
Goulburn Valley Water, with 1.40 restrictions per 100 customers, had the highest rate of domestic restrictions, and 0.59 per 100 non-domestic customers.
Legal action was taken against 794 customers across Victoria in 2009-10 for non-payment of water bills – 248 fewer than for the previous year.
To assist water customers in financial hardship, the Commission is to strengthen its Guaranteed Service Level (GSL) scheme from 1 January 2011, to increase the water businesses’ incentives to adequately address payment difficulties experienced by customers facing higher water bills.
Mr Heeps said the scheme would operate 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.
He said all urban water businesses were operating within the Victoria-wide customer service code for water users, which included provisions for customers in financial hardship.
“Water 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,” Mr Heeps said.
The water performance report also found that overall reliability, as measured by customer minutes off-supply, improved from 31 minutes off-supply in 2008-09 to 28 minutes in 2009-10