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Water Reform Archive

WATER REFORM IMPLEMENTED: SECRETARY OF STATE ANNOUNCES DEFERRAL OF CHARGES

New arrangements for the delivery of water and sewerage services came into operation on 1 April 2007. The Water and Sewerage Services (NI) Order 2006 came into effect providing for an "undertaker" to run the sevices. A company - Northern Ireland Water - has been appointed as sole water and sewerage undertaker for Northern Ireland. The company is 100% owned by the Government (through DRD). It takes over from the Department's Water Service Agency from 1 April 2007. The land, assets and staff of the Water Service Agency transferred to the company on 1 April.

Along with the transfer of responsibility for delivery of water and sewerage services to Northern Ireland Water, a new independent, regulatory regime has been established to oversee the water industry. The main regulator is the Northern Ireland Authority for Utility Regulation which also oversees the gas and electricity utilities. Environmental regulation is carried out by DOE's Environment and Heritage Service and water quality monitoring by the Drinking Water Inspectorate. The Department also has a regulatory role. The remit of the Consumer Council is extended to cover water as consumer representative.

The legislation introduces new rights and protections for consumers as well as providing for full environmental enforcement in the water and sewerage area for the first time as a result of the removal of Crown immunity.

The new arrangements set out the framework for the introduction of domestic charging for water and sewerage services and for an investment programme worth billions of pounds to update and maintain Northern Ireland's infrastructure.

Although the charging arrangements have, technically, come into effect, the new company will not be issuing bills on 2 April.

In a press conference held on 26 March the Secretary of State said in answer to a question about whether water bills would issue:

"No the water bills, though they are sitting in their envelopes, as we had made clear, will not be going out tomorrow nor will they be going out at all in the coming days and weeks because the leaderships of the two parties have asked us to defer them until they can take charge of the issue and they can do what they want to do, so they can make up their minds in the meantime how to resolve the water charges issue and deal with the funding issues and the Chancellor has also made clear, he did so last Thursday, and he is ready, I spoke to him again yesterday, is ready to meet the two parties and indeed the other parties if they wish to deal with the final details of the financial package and that was something that the two party leaders have asked for today."

In line with the Secretary of State's announcement, NI Water will not issue bills to domestic consumers in April. Charging of non-domestic consumers (who already pay water charges) will continue on the existing basis. Charges for new connections to water and sewerage network and other "one-off" charges will be introduced in line with the Government's reform proposals.

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