In response to Mr Dickinson's letter Wessex Water's shocking increases' (Echo, March 13), the industry regulator Ofwat is responsible for setting the prices charged for the water services supplied by Wessex Water.

At the beginning of the price review, we made strong representations about affordability and called on the regulator to restrict price increases to 2 per cent above inflation.

Unfortunately, our proposal was rejected by Ofwat and bills are increasing at a higher rate - primarily to fund an £0.8 billion investment programme in the five years to 2010.

This programme is needed to pay for the environmental improvements required by government, to accommodate growth in the region and to improve service to customers.

If we did not have to fund this programme and only had to maintain existing services, bills would in fact be falling this year.

We are aware that customers in genuine financial difficulty are struggling to afford to pay their water bills.

We are working with Citizens Advice Bureaux and debt advice agencies in the region and are taking the lead on a number of initiatives to help those customers who are facing financial problems.

Marilyn Smith, Head of Corporate Services, Wessex Water.