§ Mr. Efford
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will list those water companies that charge for the payment of bills at post offices. 
§ Mr. Mullin
Water companies do not charge their customers for payment of bills at post offices. Post Office Counters Ltd. levy a handling charge (currently £1 per transaction) for paying bills at post offices. This charge does not apply to GiroBank account holders.
There is significant variation in the policy of water companies in England towards payment of water bills at Post Offices. Information available from water companies indicates that five companies currently subsidise all of any Post Office handling charge on behalf of their customers:
- Cambridge Water
- Folkestone and Dover Water
- North West Water
- South Staffordshire Water
- Southern Water.
Customers of a further six companies can pay their bills free of charge if they use a payment card (obtainable free of charge from the water company):
- Essex and Suffolk Water
- Northumbrian Water
- Severn Trent Water
- South West Water
- Thames Water
- Yorkshire Water.
Customers of Wessex Water and South East Water can pay bills free of charge at Post Offices if they use an instalments book; and customers of Bristol Water can pay bills free of charge if they pay in cash.207W
Payment arrangements for the other companies vary. Such arrangements include part-subsidising the Post Office handling charge, or fully subsidising it for certain groups of customers (such as pensioners). All companies which do not offer an option to pay free of charge at Post Offices offer alternative locations (such as banks and shops) where free payments can be made.
Under the Water Industry Act 1999, water companies have to submit their charges schemes to the Director General of Water Services for approval. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has issued guidance to the Director General of Water Services on the approval of schemes, which encourages companies to offer a range of payment options to customers, particularly those on low incomes, which they can take up at no extra cost. In approving schemes for 2000–01, the Director required all companies to ensure that charges schemes made provision for making cash payments free of charge at reasonably accessible locations.