Following is a question by the Hon Tommy Cheung and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (April 9):
In its Report Issue No. 3 of Reporting Year 2007-2008 published in the middle of last month, the Office of The Ombudsman revealed that the Water Supplies Department ("WSD") received a total of 85,666 complaints about suspected overcharging of water bills between April 2005 and October 2007, of which 32,945 were confirmed, involving excessive charges totalling $38.07 million. The causes of overcharging included defective meters, etc. Recently, I have also received complaints from a number of restaurants that the authorities took a long time to send their staff to repair the meters after they were found to be defective. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) in each of the past three years, of the number of cases of defective meters and the average time taken to repair these meters;
(b) given that WSD has indicated its acceptance of the recommendations on preventing overcharging which were made by The Ombudsman in the above report, how WSD will, after implementating such recommendations, determine the water consumption of the users concerned during the period when their water meters are defective; and
(c) whether it will further expedite the meter replacement programme, and of the specific timetable for implementing the arrangement for users to report meter readings?
The Water Supplies Department (WSD) of Hong Kong installs water meters to record water consumption of its customers for billing them. With the passing of time, water meters may become defective as a result of wear and tear of mechanical parts or the effects of external elements.
WSD makes available resources each year to replace water meters that have passed the prime of their service lives. When the department's meter readers or field staff find any defective meters, they arrange for replacement of the meters. To collect data on the state of operation of water meters in Hong Kong, the department also removes water meters randomly at regular intervals for tests at its Water Meter Testing Laboratory.
A customer who finds his water meter to be defective or not performing satisfactorily may report it to the Water Supplies Department. Upon receipt of a report, the department will follow up and deal with it as soon as possible.
Regarding the three points raised by the Hon. CHEUNG Yu-yan, Tommy, we would like to reply as follows:-
(a) In the past three years (2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08), the number of cases of defective water meters was 5,514, 8,568 and 7,098 respectively.
Upon receipt of a notification of defective meters by its Customer Services Hotline (Telephone number: 2824 5000), WSD takes one working day to visit the premise and follow up. Defective meters of domestic and other low-consumption customers (accounting for 99% of the accounts) could be replaced on the same day of the visit. On average, it takes ten plus minutes to replace a meter of this nature.
For defective meters of high consumption customers such as restaurants, WSD first liaises with the customer concerned to arrange for a date and time for the replacement of water meter so as to minimize the inconvenience caused to the customer. It takes two to three hours to replace a meter of this nature.
(b) For the period when water meters are defective, WSD will calculate water charges according to Section 31 of the Waterworks Regulations. Details are as follows:
(i) charges should be calculated according to the average daily rate of consumption obtained between any successive readings before that period; or
(ii) at the discretion of the Water Authority, charges should be calculated according to the average daily rate of consumption between any successive readings following the repairing or replacement of a meter that was out of order; or
(iii) where it would be inappropriate to calculate the consumption in the manner specified in paragraph (i) or (ii), whether by reason of fluctuations in consumption or otherwise, charges should be calculated in such manner as may be agreed between the Water Authority and the consumer.
(c) Since 2006, the Water Supplies Department has expedited the replacement of meters that have been in use for more than 12 years. In the years 06/07 and 07/08, about 230,000 and 370,000 such old water meters were replaced respectively. The department will do its best to complete the replacement of such old meters by 2011.
Since 1999, customers may inform WSD of the water meter readings they took through the interactive voice response system (IVRS) of the Water Supplies Department Customer Telephone Enquiry Centre. Occasionally, for example, when meters are inaccessible to meter readers for taking meter readings, the department may also request its customers to use the IVRS to provide meter readings.
Ends/Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Issued at HKT 12:10