Water company charges exposedInvestigation finds big differences across UK

25 July 2010

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A Which? investigation has found some water companies could be capitalising on their monopoly position by charging over the odds for work that no other company is allowed to do.

Following complaints from Which? members, our investigation found big differences in what companies charge for replacing a lead pipe and granting permission for a homeowner to build an extension over a public sewer. These differences matter because, unlike gas and electricity, water company customers can't switch their supplier.

Southern Water was found to charge £812 for a so-called 'build-over application'. Northern Ireland Water (£606) also stood out for its high charges. Most companies charge between £300 and £400, but Yorkshire Water has a fee of just £30, while United Utilities, South West Water, and Scottish Water charge nothing at all.

Water company charges

When it came to the price of getting a lead supply pipe (the pipe that runs from the boundary of your property to the water main) replaced, most companies don't charge when a customer chooses to replace all their lead plumbing at their own expense (even if the lead levels in their water are found to be safe). 

However, Veolia Water Central, the biggest water-only company and previously known as Three Valleys Water, charges £1,449 to replace a 4m piece of pipe. Sister company Veolia Water Southeast (ex-Folkestone & Dover Water) and Thames Water also charge for this service.

Which? utilities researcher James Tallack said: 'It's been established that the differences across the country in customers' bills are justified by each water company's varying costs in supplying water in its region. However, this doesn't explain why your location should affect the cost of an application to build close to a public sewer, or why some people should be charged for replacing old lead pipes while others are not.'

The findings from the investigation have been passed to the Consumer Council for Water and the water industry regulator, Ofwat.

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