Government report card on water services: must try harder

floodAP Photo/Scott Heppell)

A report on how the government is performing on managing its water resources would make any parent ashamed. At best the progress it is making in a handful of areas can be described as 'patchy'. Most commonly it is rated as 'must try harder' - and in one crucial area it calls for urgent action.

So what's going on, and why are we paying the price?

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Report card

Blueprint for Water, a coalition of environmental groups, issued its scorecard - measuring the government's progress against what it believes are the most vital targets for the industry. The results are an embarrassment.

The lowest score was reserved for stopping pollutants contaminating our water - where it said urgent action was needed and that progress was very poor. The next level (where the government must try harder) was awarded in five areas: making polluters pay, retaining water on wetlands, keeping sewage out of homes and rivers and off beaches, cleaning up drainage from roads and buildings, and pricing fairly.

Prices

The issue of pricing is particularly galling. The group calls for universal metering, but it wouldn't hurt to revisit the issue of fairness across the country. Surely it shouldn't be right for cash-strapped families on the brink of poverty in some parts of the country to be paying so much more than wealthy families in other parts - just because of the pricing policies of the local water company.

The highest score achieved at all was just 'progress has been patchy' - which the government scored in the categories of wasting less water, keeping rivers flowing, supporting water-friendly farming and protecting and restoring catchments from source to sea.

Again it's highly disappointing that stopping leaks only achieved a 'patchy' report because of EU standards, while in the UK there has been a real lack of progress. When we pay so much for every drop of water, it's upsetting to see the water companies leak so much of it into the ground.

Overall, the alarming picture is that we are not getting any better at managing water. This means that a few more dry seasons and we could find ourselves in drought conditions again - at the mercy of the weather because we cannot manage the water we have.

As the report shows, failures by the government will leave cash-strapped homeowners paying a fortune for water - and yet having it rationed when we need it most.

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Government report card on water services: must try harder

Using a mobile phone to make and receive calls, send texts and browse the web while abroad can be extremely costly – especially if you are travelling outside the European Union (EU), where calls can cost up to 10 times as much as at home.

To avoid high charges, Carphone Warehouse suggests tourists ensure a data cap is in place, use applications to check data usage, turn off 'data roaming', avoid data-intensive applications such as Google Maps and YouTube and use wi-fi spots to update social networking sites.

Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) is supposed to help people to continue meeting their loan, mortgage or credit card repayments if they fall ill or lose their jobs. However, policies are often over-priced, riddled with exclusions and sold to people who could not make a claim if they needed to.

At one point, sale of this cover - which was often included automatically in loan repayments - was estimated to boost the banks' profits by up to £5 billion a year.
Now, though, consumers who were mis-sold PPI can fight back by complaining to the bank or lender concerned and taking their case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (08000 234567) should the response prove unsatisfactory.

It could be you, but let's face it, it probably won't be. In fact, buying a ticket for the Lotto only gives you a 1 in 13.9 million chance of winning the jackpot.

With odds like that, you would almost certainly be better off hanging on to your cash and saving it in a high-interest account.

No-frills airlines such as EasyJet may promote rock-bottom prices on their websites. But the overall fare you pay can be surprisingly high once extras such as luggage and credit card payment fees have been added - a process known as drip pricing.

Taking one piece of hold baggage on a return EasyJet flight, for example, adds close to £20 to the cost of your flight, while paying by credit card increases the price by a further £10.
It may therefore be worth comparing the total cost with that of a flight with a standard airline such as British Airways.

Cash advances, which include cash withdrawals, are generally charged at a much higher rate of interest than standard purchases.

While the average credit card interest rate is around 17%, a typical cash withdrawal of £500, for example, is charged at more than 26%.
What's more, as the interest accrues from the date of the transaction, rather than the next payment date, costs will mount up even if you clear your balance in full with your next payment.

Supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda often run promotions under which you can, for example, get three products for the price of two.

However, it is only worth taking advantage of these deals if you will actually use the products. Otherwise, you are simply buying for the sake of it, which is a waste of your hard-earned cash.
To avoid paying over the odds, it is also worth checking the price per kilo to ensure that larger 'economy' packs really are cheaper than the smaller versions.

Buy a train ticket at the station on the day of travel and the price is likely to give you a shock - especially if you are travelling a long distance at a busy time of day.

However, you can cut the cost of train travel by 50% or more by going online and making the purchase beforehand - especially if you book 12 weeks in advance, which is when the cheapest tickets are on sale.
Other ways to reduce the price you pay include avoiding peak times and taking advantage of so-called carnet tickets, which allow you to buy, for example, 12 journeys for the price of 10.

Most High Street banks offer packaged accounts that come with monthly fees ranging from £6.50 up to as much as £40, with a typical account charging about £15 per month.

Various benefits, such as travel insurance and mobile phone insurance, are offered in return for this fee. But whether or not it is worth paying for them depends on your individual circumstances.
Before signing up, it is therefore essential to check that you will make use of enough of the benefits, and that you cannot get them for less elsewhere.

Overseas money transfers or travel money purchases attract the same high rate of interest as credit card cash withdrawals.

Worse still, most credit cards – and debit cards – also charge you a foreign loading fee if you use them to make purchases while abroad.
You can, however, avoid these charges by using a Saga Platinum or Nationwide Building Society credit card.

Numbers starting 0871 cost 10p or more from a landline, while those starting 09 can cost more than £1 a minute from a mobile phone.

And the operators of these high-cost phone lines, some of which are banks, often get a cut of the call charges.
Most 09 numbers are linked to scams and should therefore be avoided at all costs, while 0871 numbers can often be bypassed by searching for an alternative local rate numbers on the saynoto0870.com.
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