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Labour to aid poor water customers

A Labour government will act to force water companies to place customers struggling to pay their bills on lower tariffs, shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle is warning.

With domestic water bills continuing to rise while average household incomes have fallen, Ms Eagle said Labour would draw up a mandatory "national affordability scheme" to help customers in the greatest difficulties.

Under the plan, the measures would be written into the water companies' licences with provisions to ensure that they could not be paid for by simply putting up bills for other customers.

Ms Eagle said that Labour would also act to force the companies to publish information relating to their corporate structures amid claims some use secretive ownership structures to shield their profits from the taxman.

Labour say that last year alone the industry paid out £1.8 billion in dividends to shareholders while paying just £74 million in corporation tax.

The party said that it would give the regulator, Ofwat, the power to prevent water companies deliberately attracting unsustainable levels of debt minimise their tax liabilities - jeopardising their ability to to meet their infrastructure requirements.

This latest populist measure from Labour comes after shadow education secretary Tristam Hunt set out plans to claw back millions of pounds in tax reliefs for private schools unless they do more to help their state sector counterparts.

Launching the scheme today at a debt advice centre in Thurrock, Essex, Ms Eagle will say: "It's not right that some companies pay no tax while millions of customers are struggling with the cost of living crisis.

"It's time for a new deal with the water companies. Labour will reform the water industry, creating a national affordability scheme to support those customers who are struggling most with their bills."

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