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Water Meters

Question asked in Parliament Feb 24, 2016

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:13 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water questions regarding SA Water accounts.

Leave granted.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY: Prior to the corporatisation of SA Water, the Engineering and Water Supply department provided advice of water consumption to ratepayers via an advice slip in the letterbox each time a water meter was read. This enabled ratepayers to check their meter reading at the time the meter was read. I understand that now property owners are advised of their meter number and meter readings on their SA Water accounts.

However, this information is not provided if there is one meter which supplies a number of properties, such as a group of flats or home units. This means that those who share a meter are unable to check and monitor their consumption and unable to determine if there has been a mistake made on their bill without contacting SA Water, and this can be some time after the event—in some cases, two months later. My questions are:

  1. Can the minister advise why this information is not provided for those with a common water meter?

  2. Will the minister undertake to work with SA Water to ensure this information is provided on all SA Water accounts?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 15:14 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question. I guess it comes down to a situation of how much people are prepared to pay, because such interventions don't come free of charge. The situation the honourable member refers to I think probably largely is encompassed by strata units, and blocks of flats (those cream brick flats that many of us might have lived in as we were moving out of home—certainly I did) where there is one water meter for perhaps 10 or more units, and the strata agreement for those blocks of flats would allocate a share of the water bill per unit. Sometimes ground floor units would pay a little bit more because they may have a back garden and upstairs units, not having a back garden, would pay less.

I certainly remember from my days in Kurralta Park that it was the case that ground floor units paid a little bit more for their backyard gardens, tiny though they were, and the upstairs units paid less. To enable individual metering, it is quite open for unit owners to have a plumber come in and put a meter on their connected pipes so they can actually monitor for themselves what is their consumption and check it against the group consumption and what they have been billed for.

But to first of all make the suggestion that SA Water should do that is probably inappropriate. I am not sure that ESCOSA would endorse it. I think ESCOSA may have done some research into this area—I vaguely recall some research being done—and coming down to the opinion (it may not have been ESCOSA, but I think it was) that it was not a cost-effective solution at all. As I say, private owners of units if they wish can engage a plumber and install their own meter to check their own consumption.

In terms of advice to the householder, my experience has been that the reading comes on your bill. I am not aware of past practice where the reading was slipped into your letter box at the time it was taken, but people who are keen to check and record their own usage and consumption can do that on a regular basis if they wish to and check it against the consolidated amount that comes in on their bill.

I have not had any representation for some time, that I can recall, where people have demanded or requested this service. Again, it will not come as a free service. All these things are costed and all these things have an impact. When SA Water go out and engage with their community through their consultation program, as they are expected to do through their ESCOSA regulation, people have expressed by and large that they are satisfied with the service they get, that they don't want to pay for an extra service and by and large they think the service they are getting is good value for money. If individuals want to do their own metering, they can engage a plumber to place a meter on their line in from the shared meter.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:17 ): By way of supplementary question, with respect minister, part of the question you answered I didn't ask. I was asking: you already put the meter reading on individual accounts for householders where it is a single assessment, single house. The information is already available in the SA Water system: why can't that meter reading be put on the individual accounts for those multiple occupied properties?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 15:18 ): I am not quite aware of what the honourable member is getting at. I have never been chastised before for giving people more information than they have asked for. When there is one meter, one account is raised, and that will usually go to the strata corporation. The strata corporation will then, through its own processes, allocate a shared cost to those units.

If individual units have their own meter, that of course is no longer an issue—they get that through their own processes and database—but where there is one meter servicing a group of flats, for example, or a group of units, there will be one account issued for that meter (as I understand it at least), and that will go to the strata corporation, and that will be part of the process of the strata corporation allocating a share on their own policies that their members voted on to adopt. That is how it will be distributed and allocated.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 15:19 ): Further supplementary: with strata properties, each property receives an SA Water account. All I am asking is that the actual meter reading for that one meter that services those strata titles be printed on the account.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 15:19 ): The honourable member may be right. I am not sure that he is—I could be completely wrong. I can recall from my days as a strata unit secretary for my group of flats that there wasn't an individual water bill delivered to each flat at all—it was delivered to the strata corporation. That may have changed. I don't have that information before me. I haven't lived in a flat for some time. I will undertake to inquire of SA Water as to the processes they now conduct.

If that is the case and the honourable member is correct, and I am not saying he isn't, then it makes some sense to put the full meter reading on those accounts, but it also might—it might—confuse people because they won't be paying for the full meterage, they will be paying their strata share, and their strata share may not be a straight up 10 per cent if there are 10 units. As I say, some strata corporations strike a different balance for upstairs units versus downstairs units.

It could, in fact, create even more confusion in the minds of residents, particularly those who aren't the owners but may be renting but may have a rental contract or rental agreement with their landlord that they pay the water bill. That facility is available these days, as I understand it, whereas previously it wasn't. I will undertake to take that question back to SA Water.

The Hon. G.E. Gago interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: You think I should?

The Hon. G.E. Gago: Yes.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I will undertake to take that back to SA Water or ask them their current practices, which may have changed, and the honourable member—

The Hon. G.E. Gago: We only get one bill.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —may be very right about that. The Hon. Gail Gago says that she's in a strata situation and she only gets one bill for the whole units. So, I will check that and I will come back with the appropriate information for the honourable member.


May 26, 2016

In reply to the Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 25 February 2016 )

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) :

1. Properties in South Australia that are part of a strata title or community corporation configuration, which receive water supplies through a common water meter, are referred to as common supply by SA Water.

For these customers, water use is either billed to a dedicated water use account, known as a 'common supply account', which is separate from the individual property rates account, or apportioned amongst the individual accounts for each property.

Either way water use is billed, a single account exists for the shared water meter. SA Water's billing system—CSIS—is designed so that the portion of the bill that displays the meter details (including the actual readings and consumption) is not shown unless the property itself has the meter. These details are shown on the common supply account rather than individual property accounts.

Where water use is apportioned, the individual accounts state how much of the total water consumption charge each individual property owner is liable to pay for.

2. SA Water is currently working on providing customers in a common supply arrangement with enhanced meter and consumption information through the customer online portal.