Water services are essential services that whānau need for health, wellbeing and social participation. No one should face losing access to essential water services because of an inability to pay or because of barriers around engaging with organisations providing water.
We support robust consumer protections and economic regulation being brought in if proposed wider changes with the provision of water services progress. To ensure barriers to accessing water services do not cause or contribute to whānau facing hardship we recommend that the overall focus of such regulation is fostering and maintaining a community wellbeing focused culture within organisations who provide water services in Aotearoa. This should be underpinned by minimum standards for support where whānau face payment difficulty and mechanisms to ensure fair charges for essential services.
It is also vital that decisions that lead to the way whānau will access water services for decades are informed by ongoing funding for expertise on water issues within the Consumer Advocacy Council which is currently being established with a focus on energy issues. Such funding should include specific requirements for the Consumer Advocacy Council to embed advocacy led by Māori in its functions or specific separate funding for consumer advocacy led by Māori. This would act as a guarantee that community concerns or potential gaps in protections will be appropriately considered in decision making.