Most hard-up households struggle with bills despite doubling in help says report

Only 20% of customers in need of help in paying their water bills are getting support according to a report by water consumer watchdog, CC Water. This finding comes despite a doubling over the past year in the number of low-come households receiving water company assistance through social tariffs to some 400,000.

Water industry association Water UK said the water companies provide more than £40 million-worth of help to cash trapped households each year and are “constantly looking at ways to target support at those who need it most.”

CC Water welcomed the work by the water companies but claimed that they were only “scratching the surface” of the problem. The watchdog said more than three million low-income households considered their water bill to be unaffordable.

In its report Staying afloat: Addressing customer vulnerability in the water sector (2016/17) CCWater said more than 260,500 low-income households have benefited from social tariffs – up 93% on the previous year. And an additional 141,000 households were registered with the industry’s cap on charges to low income customers whose essential water usage was high.

The watchdog said it would particularly like to see:

  • more customers moved to metered billing if it would could save them money;

  • greater locational consistency in the way financial assistance was provided so that help is available to all who need it;

  • data sharing and better communications to increase the take up of assistance; and

  • more cash available to support customers in financial hardship.-

CC Water said it will “increase our work with the industry, governments and regulators to help the industry meet these challenges.”

It pledged to press the regulator, Ofwat, to “strengthen the position on vulnerability within the 2019 Price Review,” and to work with water companies through Customer Challenge Groups “to ensure that business plans deliver for vulnerable customers.” It said it would urge water firms to up their help to vulnerable customers still further.

The watchdog said a 40% rise in the number of customers signing up for additional support under the water industry’s Priority Services Registers showed significant regional variation across England and Wales. It said this implied that “more work is needed in some areas.”