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Water watchdog to tackle bill disputes
New role: Chris Field. Picture: Supplied

The man who has been appointed WA's inaugural water watchdog has vowed to be an "independent, fair and timely" umpire in disputes between customers and providers such as the Water Corporation.

Lawyer Chris Field begins his role as the State's first water ombudsman tomorrow after being appointed as part of an overdue move to update WA's water laws.

The shake-up will be a boon for water consumers, who have until now been forced to go to court - a long and costly process - if they are unhappy with the way their provider handles a complaint.

Mr Field, who is WA's energy ombudsman, said States such as Victoria and NSW had long had a water ombudsman and the creation of the office in WA would empower consumers.

He said he expected to resolve only a relatively small number of gripes a year and most would relate to billing issues.

As with the current system, Mr Field said water service providers such as the Water Corp would continue to handle most complaints on their own.

However, in the rare instances in which consumers were still aggrieved, they would be able to have the matter determined by the ombudsman within a targeted time frame of 10 business days.

Though consumers would be free to refer the matter to court if they were unhappy with the ombudsman's determinations, providers would be bound by them.

The watchdog's powers include penalising providers, naming and shaming them publicly and, in extreme cases, stripping them of their service licences if they do not abide by a ruling.

Though the ombudsman's funding would be paid for by the providers - a figure Mr Field estimated would be only about $200,000 a year - he insisted this would not affect the office's impartiality.

"The important part of the ombudsman's scheme is that the ombudsman and his or her staff are fundamentally independent and impartial in everything they do," Mr Field said.