The Consumer Council for Water has called on water companies to fund more support for those who struggle to pay their bills, rather than rely on further customer cross subsidies.
The call came last week as the watchdog published a report, Water for all: affordability and vulnerability in the water sector 2017/18. This praised the sector for progressing to the point of supporting more than half a million low income households with financial help. This included just over a 50% rise in the number of people on a low income receiving subsidised water bills through customer-funded social tariffs.
But CC Water noted the growth and impact of these schemes remains heavily constrained by other customers’ willingness to fund them. It said “about three-quarters of nearly 3m customers who say their water bills are unaffordable will not receive a penny of support unless water companies dip into their own pockets to bolster assistance schemes”. It added “some companies are already leading the way in this regard by re-investing into social tariffs or other assistance schemes” (see Shareholder funds enable SES Water double customers receiving bill assistance.
CCWater also urged companies to work together to address the significant regional variations which mean customers’ access and levels of assistance are largely dependent on where they live. The watchdog wants to see a more uniform approach which would help to simplify the system and offer protection to those that are most financially vulnerable.
Elsewhere the report looked at vulnerability more widely, reporting nearly 345,000 customers are currently registered priority services, up 37% since 2013/14.
It said: “However, the lack of support provided to many customers who needed additional help when freezing temperatures disrupted water supplies in March this year exposed some water companies’ failings. CCWater wants companies to focus more on improving their support for customers who suddenly need extra help due to unexpected events, including bereavement or illness.”