Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Water costs 'penalise' South West

Beach in Cornwall
South West Water customers pay to keep beaches clean

Taxpayers across England could be forced to subsidise Devon and Cornwall's rising water bills.

The recommendation is contained in a government-backed review into water charging across the country.

The Walker report said the South West was a special case, with customers penalised by the cost of infrastructure improvements following privatisation.

Regulator Ofwat and South West Water have welcomed the report and say they will look at the findings in detail.

The Walker report also suggested the possibility of implementing a "seasonal tariff", which charged additional summer use at a premium rate.

It goes right to the heart of the problem
Anna Walker, review leader

Last month, water users in Devon and Cornwall were told they could expect a cut of about £6 in bills over the next five years, but that would bring a typical bill down to £483 - still almost £150 more than the national average charge of £340.

Customers have been forced to pay more to help keep the region's beaches clean, but three out of 10 people in the South West are in "water poverty", according to the Consumer Council for Water, with bills costing more than 3% of their income.

Anna Walker, the review leader, told BBC News that two visits to Plymouth had left her with a "strong sense" from people that bills were too high.

She admitted that asking one area of the country to subsidise another posed "challenges" to the government.

But there was "a real understanding in government about the concerns regarding water bills in the South West", she said.

"I am hopeful that they will give them really close consideration," she added.

Andy White, from the Consumer Council for Water, said he was "very pleased" with the review.

"We have been pressing from the inception of the report for measures to tackle affordability in England and Wales and particularly in the South West where bills are so high," he said.

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