WATER bills for Southern Water customers are set to rise by an average of 8.2 per cent in the next financial year - one of the highest rises across the country.
The Worthing-based company said bills would increase by an average of £31 in 2012-13 – helping to pay for a £1.8 billion programme of service and environmental improvements from 2010 to 2015, boosting the local economy and supporting thousands of jobs.
Average bills for customers receiving both water and wastewater services will be £416 - a daily cost of about £1.15.
The increase on last year’s average bill of £385 equates to just over £2.50 per month.
Chief executive Matthew Wright said: “This investment is the equivalent of spending almost £1,000 for every property in the Southern Water region, giving a big boost to the local economy at a time of economic downturn.
“By ensuring investment in our communities, we are able to support thousands of jobs, while delivering improved services and a wide range of environmental improvements, such as cleaner seas and rivers.”
In 2009, Ofwat announced average water bills would, in real terms, remain broadly flat until 2015, but the impact of a higher than forecast inflation rate of around five per cent (RPI) for the last two years means water customers are paying more than they might have expected.
Dame Yve Buckland, chair of watchdog the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Under the system of regulation, water companies are allowed to add inflation to the price limits agreed with Ofwat.
“However, in the current economic climate, many customers are struggling with rising household bills and the level of water debt is growing.
“Companies need to tell their customers very clearly what they are getting for their money and to help customers who are having difficulty paying their bill.
“We will be working with companies and the regulator throughout the next price review to ensure future water prices are acceptable and affordable.
“We will also applaud those companies who are currently exploring different ways of mitigating the impact of inflation on their customers.
“Anyone struggling to pay their water bill should contact their company immediately.”
Southern Water employs 1,816 staff, 287 more than a year ago, including 56 apprentices and supports more than 2,900 jobs through its capital investment programme.
Its spending programme includes more than 330 environmental projects, more than any other water company, to meet the latest European legislation.
The largest is the £300 million Cleaner Seas for Sussex project in the Brighton and Hove area, along with other schemes to upgrade treatment works.
The improvement programme will see 60km of water mains and sewers renewed in 2012/13 along with schemes to safeguard water supplies, improve water quality, reduce leakage and help prevent flooding.
Between 2010 and 2015, Southern Water is also installing more than 500,000 water meters for customers as part of its 25-year plan to manage resources in the south east.
Customers who have a water meter installed tend to use ten per cent less water.
As a result the average 2012-13 water bill for customers who have a meter is £57 lower than for those who are not metered - £391 compared with £448.
Mr Wright said: “While our charges have risen to meet the enormous cost of our investment, we have worked hard to ensure that those increases are kept to a minimum.
“At the same time, our metering programme is bringing a fairer charging system, giving customers control over the amount they spend on our services by ensuring they pay for only what they use.”