Water bill rise of 3% latest 'unwelcome' hike for Northern Ireland business
An increase of over 3% in water bills for businesses from the beginning of next month is "unwelcome" in the context of other rising overheads, trade groups have said.
NI Water said the 3.35% hike was below the 3.6% rate of Retail Prices Index inflation and less than the maximum allowed increase of 4.6% permitted by the Utility Regulator.
It said the increase was needed to carry out investment in infrastructure and meet rising costs, including more expensive electricity.
Hospitality Ulster chief executive Colin Neill said the rising cost in water was the latest in a litany of hikes.
"The hospitality industry uses a high volume of water and this increase places an additional burden on our already heavily taxed hospitality sector and adds to costs for publicans, restaurateurs and hoteliers across the province," he said.
"This latest increase must be taken in the context of a rise earlier this month of 1.5% in business rates for Northern Ireland.
"The hospitality sector is working for NI and continues to grow. That's despite the lack of decision-making due to the collapse of the Assembly.
NI Water said the changes meant a small office or shop would face an annual rise of £13, bringing bills to £383, while a medium-sized factory would see a £111 increase to £3,492.
Roger Pollen, head of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "April will see a raft of price increases imposed on business - from the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage to Auto enrolment pensions - so this above-inflation increase in water charges is unwelcome.
"We recognise that the Utility Regulator has approved this increase to permit investment in infrastructure but, once again, the burden is being loaded onto businesses.
"In order to help accommodate these increases in overhead, FSB is calling on other regulators and legislators to play their part by reducing the cost of the regulatory burden on businesses.
"FSB is also calling on NI Water to ensure that as much of the investment in infrastructure as possible is opened up to local SMEs through innovative procurement processes, to help ensure that the money local business is contributing can be returned to local smaller firms."