Watchdog to rule on water gripes

Daniel Mercer
Tapping in to discontent: A new watchdog will handle water disputes. Picture: Supplied
Tapping in to discontent: A new watchdog will handle water disputes. Picture: Supplied

People angry about their water bills will have a new watchdog to go to within weeks as part of overdue State Government efforts to make providers such as the Water Corporation more accountable.

Water Minister Terry Redman will today announce the Water Services Act 2012 has become operational more than a year after Parliament passed it, ushering in a shake-up of WA water laws.

The Act, heavily developed by the former Labor government, will establish a water ombudsman to handle disputes between customers and providers from January.

It is understood the role will go to energy ombudsman Chris Field, a former Australian Consumers' Association chairman and inaugural Economic Regulation Authority member.

It will bring water into line with the electricity and gas industries and significantly empower consumers aggrieved with their service providers.

Currently, the only independent umpire water customers can take complaints to about their service is the State Administrative Tribunal, which is a long and costly process.

Mr Redman said the changes would also introduce a code of conduct under which providers must meet minimum standards in relation to billing, payment, complaints and services.

It will also be easier for companies to compete with the State-owned Water Corp to provide services including wastewater and drainage.

"The new laws will remove unnecessary barriers to the delivery of water services while ensuring a high quality standard of service," Mr Redman said.

Despite the announcement, there have been rumours the delay in setting up the water ombudsman was to shield the Water Corp from a surge in complaints to an independent umpire.

The utility switched to two-monthly billing in July from six-monthly bills and the transition was tipped to lead to an increase in gripes as the new system encountered teething problems.