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Water Industry Act 1999

Section 13 and Schedule 3, Part II: Commissioner’s advice on charges

31.Section 13 amends the 1994 Act to give the Commissioner the function of advising Ministers about water and sewerage charges. He is to offer advice on the fixing of charges over a period of years to be specified in advance by Ministers. In preparing his advice he must take into account information relevant to the performance and service standards which the water and sewerage authorities have to meet in consequence of statutory requirements and government policies, the investment programmes necessary to deliver those standards and the scope for the authorities to secure efficiency savings. Ministers can accept or modify the Commissioner's advice, or substitute their own advice. This process will be transparent to the general public through provision requiring the Commissioner to publish his advice as accepted by ministers and any substituted advice.

32.The published advice will provide the framework within which the Commissioner will agree annual charges schemes with the water and sewerage authorities. In effect, the result of the process will be to establish limits for annual price increases over the period of years in question. Within this longer term framework approved by Ministers, the Commissioner will agree annual charges schemes with the water and sewerage authorities in the same way as the Customers Council does at present under section 76 of the 1994 Act.

33.These new arrangements will differ from the current system in two respects. First, in preparing his advice the Commissioner will be required to consider charge levels over a number of years instead of one year at a time, as happens with the Customers Council at present. Secondly, the matters to be taken into account by the Commissioner in framing his advice, including matters of efficiency, will be specified (which they are not in respect of the Customers Council at present). The purpose of these changes is to assist the water and sewerage authorities to meet the needs of their customers as efficiently as possible by providing a stable business framework within which to make plans for future delivery of service.

34.Schedule 3, Part II, amends existing legislation in consequence of the creation of the Commissioner and the dissolution of the Customers Council. It applies mainly to the 1994 Act where the Commissioner will take over the role of the Council in connection with codes of practice, customer complaints and annual charges schemes. It also amends the Water (Fluoridation) Act 1985 to require the Commissioner, rather than the Council, to be consulted about proposals to introduce fluoride into water supplies in Scotland.

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