in unprecedented move, Ofwat has announced that it will report on how each water company serves, supports and protects vulnerable customers and name and shame companies.
Vulnerable customers are a key focus of the 2019 price review (PR19). Ofwat chief executive Cathryn Ross (pictured) has urged companies to step up their efforts to help vulnerable customers and “go the extra mile”. The regulator has called on companies to acknowledge that possibly half the population will experience temporary circumstances, such as illness or bereavement, that may make them vulnerable.
As part of the price review, all water firms will have to deliver means to identify customers in vulnerable circumstances aand deliver against their needs.
The regulator wants companies to make support more accessible and seamless for customers and to provide it before problems escalate. Water companies should, the regulator said, work together and looking more closely at other sectors for examples of best practice. And Ofwat has urged water companies to make greater use of their customer data to up their understanding of what drives customers into vulnerable circumstances.
Ofwat said it will report publicly on each water company’s plans to help vulnerable customers as part of its assessment under PR19. And companies will have to report publicly on their delivery of the plans.
Ross said: “Any of us could find ourselves in vulnerable circumstances at some point in our lives – often as a result of factors beyond our control. Companies need to do more, especially to work together and to learn from best practice in other sectors. This is too important an issue for companies to be allowed to leave it in the ‘too-difficult’ pile.”
Yorkshire ups help for needy as watchdog calls for more
Yorkshire Water reported this week that the number of low-income households it has assisted rose 18% in the past year. At the same time the sector’s watchdog is has called for greater help to ensure all those who need help get it because only one in five is getting the help they need.
In England and Wales, some 400,000 customers are currently receiving bill reductions and help with debt payments by their water company.
Yorkshire Water said it allocated £8m to help vulnerable and low-income households last year.