The UK water utility regulator Ofwat has warned water customers in England and Wales that their bills are about to increase to pay for crucial infrastructure upgrades.

Bills will rise by a cross industry average of 12% from April 1, 2005 to pay for maintenance and improvement of the UK’s crumbling and archaic waterways. GBP17 billion will be being invested over the next five years.

The increases, which will typically equate to an extra GBP29 per year, are above the rate of inflation and follow closely on from announcements of price hikes from the electricity and gas utilities. Customers of Thames Water, Southern Water, South East Water and Bournemouth and West Hampshire Water will be most affected as their bills will rise by 20%.

The director of water services for Ofwat, Philip Fletcher, has defended the move, claiming it to be no more than what was necessary to maintain the water supply network.

Although this latest news will cause consumers added pain in the pocket, the announcement could have been worse as water companies had been pushing for Ofwat to sanction a 29% rise in prices.