Water Usage Charges Policy
Last published 18 Dec 2023
Generally, the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) requires all tenants living in properties owned or managed by DCJ to pay water usage charges. DCJ applies a water usage charge on a weekly basis.
The intent of this policy is to explain how water usage charges are calculated. The Tenancy Charges and Account Management policy supplement provides further information to support this document.
This policy applies to all tenants living in properties owned or managed by DCJ, including tenants of the Aboriginal Housing Office.
3. Policy statement
DCJ is able to apply water usage charges in accordance with the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.
Water usage charges encourage water conservation by DCJ tenants and the funds recouped allow DCJ to maintain and add to the stock of available public housing.
DCJ expects tenants to conserve water wherever possible, and to comply with any water restrictions put into place by the local water authority. Tenants will be liable for any breaches of water restrictions.
Calculating water usage charges
Tenants pay either a percentage water charge or an actual water charge. DCJ determines this according to whether:
- the property where the tenant lives has a separate or a shared water meter, and
- the local water authority provides DCJ with sufficient usage information to determine the tenant's water usage.
The ”sufficient usage information” required by DCJ is a separate assessment notice for an individual property. Where usage information for multiple properties is provided on a single assessment notice by the local water authority, that is not sufficient usage information to allow DCJ to apply an actual water charge to that tenancy
DCJ exempts some properties from water usage charges. This means that DCJ will not charge tenants living in those properties for water usage. For more information, go to Tenancies and properties that are exempt from water usage charges.
DCJ is responsible for meeting all other costs associated with water provision, such as water connection charges, sewerage and other charges, and provision of water in common areas.
Percentage water charges
DCJ bases percentage water charges on a percentage of the rent that a tenant actually pays. For example, if a tenant pays a market rent of $150 per week and the percentage water charge rate is 5.0%, their percentage water charge will be $7.50 per week. For more information go to Percentage Water Charge Rate.
DCJ also sets minimum and maximum charges. This means that DCJ will not charge a tenant:
- more than a maximum amount for water usage per week, or
- for water usage if it calculates the amount payable as less than the minimum amount per week.
For more information, go to Minimum and maximum charges.
Tenants living in headleased properties pay a percentage water charge whether or not the property has a shared or separate water meter.
Where an Aboriginal Housing Office tenant pays a percentage water charge, DCJ calculates that charge based on the tenant's rent payable, which includes Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA). The inclusion of CRA in the rent calculation results in a higher water charge.
To ensure that tenants are not out of pocket because of the increased water charge, DCJ will periodically credit the tenant's water usage account. The amount of the credit will be the difference between the water charge based on the rent payable including the CRA, and what the water charge would have been, based on the rent without the CRA.
Actual water charges
DCJ charges most tenants residing in homes that have a separate water meter for water based on their actual water usage. Actual water charges will start after DCJ processes the first water authority bill for the property where the tenant has lived in the property for the full period of that water usage bill. DCJ will calculate the tenant's first actual water charge by dividing the total amount of water usage charged in the latest bill by the number of weeks included in that billing period. DCJ will round the result to the next lowest five cents.
For example, if the water usage amount was $65 and the billing period was 13 weeks, then the first actual water charge will be set at $5 per week ($65 divided by 13 weeks).
Evidence requirements for calculating actual water usage charges
DCJ will calculate actual water charges from the billing information supplied by the relevant water authority.
Determining water usage charges for new tenants and tenants who are leaving their property
Water usage charges for new tenants
This section applies to new, transferring, mutually exchanging and succeeding tenants. Where these tenants move into an actual water charge property, they will pay a percentage water charge until DCJ processes the first water authority bill for their property where the tenant has been living in the property for the full billing period.
On receipt of that water usage bill, DCJ will compare the percentage water charge paid by the tenant since their tenancy started, with the tenant's estimated actual usage over that period. DCJ will place any credit adjustment arising from that reconciliation on the tenant's account. Any debit adjustment will be included as an adjustment in the calculation of the first actual water charge for that tenancy.
To estimate actual water usage from the start of the tenancy to the end date of the first full billing period, DCJ will use the water usage data from that first full billing period and assume the same level of water usage over the entire reconciliation period.
Water usage charges for tenants who are temporarily away from their property
For actual water charge tenants, the water meter reading will reflect an absence from the property. That is, the bill relating to that period will be lower as no usage will have occurred during that time. That lower usage will be reflected in lower actual water charges for the next period. Therefore, for actual water charge tenants, there is no specific “exemption” during absences from their property.
For percentage water charge tenants, water usage charges will continue to apply and remain payable during approved absences, subject to the following:
- If the entire household is absent for more than 6 weeks with the approval of DCJ then DCJ will waive charges accrued after those 6 weeks.
- If the property is occupied by family members or friends, with the permission of the tenant, during the tenant's absence, then water usage charges continue to apply and remain payable.
Water usage charges for tenants who are leaving their property
Tenants who are leaving their current property, whether they are leaving DCJ accommodation or transferring to another DCJ property, are required to pay any actual water charges outstanding on their water usage account as at the end date of their tenancy. Once a tenant has left a property, DCJ will not place any further water charges or adjustments on the tenant's water usage account.
Assessing and providing a water usage allowance
DCJ will consider granting a water usage allowance to a tenant who pays an actual water usage charge and they, or a member of their household:
- are on kidney dialysis, and/or
- have a health condition or disability which means they need to use significantly more water than normal, and/or
- have a large household (six or more people).
An allowance is an amount that DCJ will credit to a tenant's water account each quarter to assist with their higher costs of water usage. For more information, go to Water usage allowances.
Evidence requirements for assessing water usage allowances
To be eligible for the kidney dialysis or health and disability allowance, a tenant will need to provide written evidence that:
- the tenant, or a household member is undergoing kidney dialysis at home and/or
- the tenant or a household member has a health condition or disability that necessitates the use of significantly higher amounts of water than DCJ considers normal for a similar sized household. The medical evidence must include information about the amount of additional water the tenant uses due to the medical condition or disability. For example, the number of extra baths or showers the tenant must take or the type of equipment needed that requires additional water usage in order to operate.
DCJ will use its own records to determine if a tenant has a large household and is entitled to the large household allowance.
Reviewing water usage charges
DCJ regularly reviews the amount of water usage it charges to tenants. There are two types of review:
- percentage water charge review, and
- actual water charge review (called an adjusted actual water charge).
Percentage water charge review
DCJ reviews the percentage rate and the maximum charge regularly. It does this to ensure that the total amount paid by all tenants subject to the percentage water charge is not more than the total cost of water usage for that total group.
When undertaking a percentage water charge review, DCJ includes an allowance for:
- the costs of watering common areas, and
- excess usage by tenants with health problems and disabilities, and
- leaks from pipes and taps.
Additionally, as DCJ bases the percentage water charge on a percentage of the tenant's rent payable, each time the tenant's rent payable changes, DCJ will adjust the percentage water charge.
Actual water charge review
Following receipt of each water bill for the tenant's property, DCJ will adjust the tenant's actual water usage charge for the next period.
DCJ will base the new actual water charge on the tenant's actual water usage from the latest water authority bill, plus or minus an adjustment to take account of the tenant having used more or less water than what DCJ charged them for during the latest billing period. The adjustment may be a credit, debit or zero amount.
To determine the new actual water charge, DCJ will add or subtract the adjustment amount from the actual water usage amount. DCJ will then divide the remaining amount by the number of weeks in the latest billing period. For example:
The unadjusted usage charges debited to the tenant's account during the billing period was $78.
Total water usage amount from latest bill = $65
Water usage billing period = 91 days
Step 1: $78 less $65 = $13
Step 2: 91 days divided by 7 = 13 weeks
Step 3: $65 less $13 = $52, divided by 13 weeks = $4 per week
Where the adjustment amount is greater than the latest water usage bill, DCJ will post a credit to the tenant's account for the adjustment amount. In this case, DCJ will set the new actual water charge by dividing the latest water usage bill by the number of weeks included in that billing period.
DCJ will advise tenants in writing each time their water usage charge changes. When DCJ adjusts actual water charges, it will advise the tenant of:
- the start and end dates of the relevant water authority billing period, and
- the meter reading at the start and end dates of the relevant billing period, and
- the number of kilolitres of water used during the relevant billing period, and
- the dollar amount of water usage charged by the water authority for the relevant billing period, and
- the adjustment amount calculated (credit/debit), and
- the amount of the adjusted actual water charge the tenant must pay, and
- the date when the adjusted actual water charge is to start.
Payment of water usage charges
DCJ expects tenants to arrange for prompt payment of their water usage charges. As DCJ applies weekly charges for water usage, tenants must pay their water charges on or before the due date. Tenants must notify DCJ immediately if they are unable to make payments. Where tenants have difficulty paying their water usage charges, DCJ will work with and support that tenant towards resolving their difficulty. For more information, see the Account Management policy.
For information about payment options, see the Tenancy Charges policy.
Previous policy rules
DCJ has a number of previous policy rules relating to water usage charges. DCJ uses these previous rules if it needs to recalculate or check water usage charges going back over a period of time. For more information, staff can see Previous policy rules and Previous water usage charge percentage rates.
4. Legislation and compliance
DCJ is able to apply water usage charges in accordance with the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010.
The Sydney Water Act 1994 and the Local Government (Water Services) Regulation 1999 enable authorised council officers and water authority officers to impose fines on people who breach the water restrictions.
5. Further information
Appeals and review of decisions
If a tenant has concerns over an aspect of their water usage charges, they are encouraged to speak to their client service officer to try to resolve those concerns. If they believe DCJ made an incorrect decision in relation to an application for a water allowance or the amount of their percentage water charge, they may ask for a formal review of the decision. No formal review is available in respect to the amount of an actual water charge.