THE Water Corporation will take a closer look at ways of helping struggling families after an increase in the number of households that had their water cut off last financial year.
About $300,000 will be spent over three years on a new policy officer tasked with providing insight into the hardships faced by struggling WA households.
The number of customers who had their water reduced to a flow of just 2.3 litres per minute – an amount enough to sustain life but not to shower or wash clothes – increased from 2070 in 2014-15 to 2467 in 2016-17.
So far into 2017-18, 638 customers have had their water turned off.
Baldivis was the worst Perth suburb in 2016-17 with 41 cut-offs, while Ellenbrook came in at 39 and Gosnells with 35.
Clarkson, Byford and Balga also featured in the top 10 suburbs for cut-offs.
The new role was announced as part of a new partnership with the Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS).
WACOSS deputy chief executive Jennie Gray said extra representation for consumers could play an important role ensuring “water services remain affordable and sustainable”.
“The voice of consumers is essential in developing the support, concessions and awareness needed to enable vulnerable consumers to engage in utilities markets,” she said.
“Without it, the community and consumers cannot be assured that their interests will be considered or protected through both the reform process and in the final product.”
Water Minister Dave Kelly said the new procedures, trialled over the last year, played a key role in reducing the number of WA households denied access to free-flowing water because of outstanding bills.
“With these new procedures in place, the number of WA families whose water has been shut off has more than halved,” Mr Kelly said.
“I am also confident this number can be further reduced in the years ahead.”
Opposition water spokesman Steve Thomas said his team would scrutinise the figures.
The cost of water was put up for debate in November when an Economic Regulation Authority report suggested customers could be saved $400 per year if charges were re-set to reflect the cost of providing the service.
Dr Gray said WACOSS would work with the Water Corp to ensure they provide assistance and not push people into further hardship.
“Defaulting on bills for utilities, such as water, is a common signal of people facing hardship, as they understandably priorities keeping food on the table and paying their rent to keep a roof over their heads,” she said.
Community Services Minister Simone McGurk said struggling customers could seek assistance under the Hardships Utility Grant Scheme, which was topped up with an additional $5 million last month.
If you need help with your bill, visit https://www.watercorporation.com.au.
Metropolitan suburbs with the most customer cut-offs in 2016-17
1 – Baldivis – 41 cut-offs
2 – Ellenbrook – 39
3 – Gosnells – 35
4 – Clarkson – 27
5 – Byford – 26
6 – Balga – 23
7 – Ballajura, Wanneroo – 22
9 – Thornlie – 21
10 – Dianella, Girrawheen, Seville Grove – 20
*Suburbs in Mandurah were grouped under the banner of the City, so were excluded from this list. There were 115 cut-offs.