WATER COMPANIES will be allowed to raise customer bills to pay for sewer repairs, but only if they can prove that the extra money is needed, Ofwat said this week.
The water regulator said in a new report on flooding sewers that water and sewerage firms must improve their data on sewer flooding and start prioritising the work more effectively if they are to be allowed to raise bills.
Seven thousand homes were hit by sewer flooding last year but until now, Ofwat has struggled to justify higher bills because of the poor data water and sewerage companies have provided.
In 2000, estimated costs of repairs per household from water companies varied wildly - from £17,000 to £150,000 - because of poor data. Ofwat set an average of £52,000.
Of the current situation, Ofwat said: 'We cannot distinguish between a company where a high proportion of problems could be solved relatively cheaply and quickly, from one where remaining problems are difficult and costly to deal with.'
To receive the extra funds, water and sewerage firms will have to prepare detailed data sets to common methodologies and prioritise repair schemes before the next price review in 2005.
The report warns that unless water companies improve their information gathering, they could be hit by a glut of court actions.
Thames Water was successfully sued in February by customer Peter Marcic for repeated external sewer flooding of his property.
INFOPLUS Flooding from Sewers can be found at www. ofwat. gov. uk