NICOLA Sturgeon has refused to rule out higher water and council tax bills for people living alone.

The Herald revealed in July that ministers want to cut the single occupier discount for water charges from 25% to 10%, and end the empty homes exemption altogether.

In a consultation document on the future water charging regime, they said the discounts were “simply a subsidy” paid by other customers, with the single occupier relief alone costing £85m a year.

The changes would cost most single occupiers around £70 more per year from 2021, though there would be more generous discounts of up to 50% for the poorest households.

The proposed changes come as the number of single-occupiers increases - with up to 40% of homes now eligible in some council areas - and the water industry requires greater investment to maintain its infrastructure and improve its capacity.

At First Minister’s Questions, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie suggested some SNP MSPs wanted to end the council tax discount for those living on their own, as well as the water one.

Cutting the 25% discount on council tax to 10% would mean an extra £165 a year on the bill for an average band D home.

Ms Baillie said: “Will the First Minister rule out now any cut to the single-person discount for water? No one would dispute the need to help the poorest more, but the Government should not fund that by taking money from lone pensioners on fixed incomes, who are struggling.”

She said people were concerned the proposals were the “thin end of the wedge” and urged her to also rule out scrapping the single person council tax discount.

“Will the First Minister give a commitment now that her Government will not penalise single households, particularly as many of them are pensioners on low fixed incomes?” she said.

Ms Sturgeon insisted no decisions had yet been made, but did not rule anything out.

She also said any changes would go through further detailed consultation.

She said: “

When we take the decisions, they will be progressive - they are all about making sure that the help that we provide goes to the people who need it most.”

She said Citizens Advice Scotland had welcomed the proposal for a 50% the water bill discount for the poorest half a million homes, but did not address lower discount plans.