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PM 'out of touch' on water bills

David Cameron has been criticised by Labour for being "out of touch" for failing to tackle soaring water bills, as it urged the Government to take tougher action.

Shadow environment, food and rural affairs minister Maria Eagle said the Prime Minister had done nothing to ease the pressure on family finances.

"David Cameron has wasted three years doing absolutely nothing to tackle the impact that rising water bills are having on stretched household budgets.

"The Government's failure to use its own water legislation to toughen up the regulator's powers to cut bills and require companies to help those struggling to pay shows how out of touch Ministers are on this issue."

Speaking ahead of the Second Reading of the Government's Water Bill, she added: "The water companies are making eye-watering amounts of money while customers face some of the highest bills in Europe. Yet all we have seen from the Government is a single weakly worded letter to water bosses begging them not to hike bills again next year. That is simply not good enough and families deserve better.

"Labour would be taking tough action to bring the rising cost of water under control. We would strengthen Ofwat's power to reopen price settlements to cut bills where companies are making excessive profits and force all water companies to support a national affordability scheme to help those struggling to pay their bill."

Labour, which will seek to amend the Government's Water Bill during the Committee Stage of its scrutiny by MPs, are putting forward a number of amendments they say will help to ease the burden on households.

Labour are calling for a new national affordability scheme to require all water companies to help people struggling with their bills, ending what they have said amounts to a "postcode lottery" system, whereby companies choose whether to offer a 'social tariff', setting the criteria for eligibility.

The party would also like to see industry regulator Ofwat's powers strengthened in order to intervene and force monopoly water providers to slash their bills in circumstances where they have benefited from better-than-expected financial results beyond their control.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said: " We know that household budgets are under pressure, and keeping water bills affordable is a crucial way we can help hard-working people.

"That is why we are pressing hard to make sure customers get a fair deal, by encouraging water companies to look closely at any price increases, introduce social tariffs for vulnerable customers and crackdown on bad debt."

A Government source added: "This legislation will help keep water bills affordable by driving greater efficiencies and more innovation, while also encouraging the investment which is vital to ensure secure supplies in future.

"All customers - including householders - will benefit from an industry that is more competitive and incentivised to look for the most efficient way to meet future demand.

"We need take no lessons from Labour who failed to regulate the industry robustly and allowed prices to rise by 20%, the current levels are a result of their price regime."

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