Following a range of problems with water invoices arriving on farms, the NFU is urging members to check their invoices to ensure they are accurate.
The NFU has been working closely with the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) which represents all water customers including farmers, in trying to resolve these issues.
Evan Joanette, policy manager for competition and markets at CCWater, explains that there are a few ways in which wastewater charges for farmers might have changed since the introduction of water retail competition last year.
Where a farm is connected to the public water supply, sewerage system and/or surface water drainage system, it is billed for these services by the water and/or sewerage service provider. In most cases, a meter records how much water is supplied and the readings are used to calculate the water and sewerage charges.
If a water supply does not have an associated sewerage connection, then sewerage charges should not apply.
“If you have a sewerage connection, not all the water supplied to a site returns to the sewer, with some lost through activities like cooking, cleaning and gardening," he said. "On a farm where water is used for commercial purposes like washing, supplying animal troughs or irrigating crops, even less water may end up in the sewer.
“Where it has been demonstrated that a greater proportion of water doesn’t return to the sewer, most sewerage companies allow customers to apply for a rebate of wastewater charges, often called a non-return to sewer (NRTS) allowance.”
Since 1 April 2017, commercial farms have been able to choose the company that provides their water retail services and some data in this competitive water market has not been as robust as it should have been.
The NFU and CCWater have identified that some information about sewerage connections and historical NRTS allowances did not migrate from water companies to retailers. This has led to some farms getting wastewater charges which were higher than expected or which shouldn’t have applied at all.
We recommend that you check your water bills to avoid surprises like charges for unrecognised services or meter readings that are higher than expected (and which could indicate leakage).
Contact your water retailer if you have questions.