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  • by Karma Loveday

Watchdog seeks “radical rethink” as many struggle with bills despite hike in help

A “radical rethink” could be needed in how financial assistance is funded in the future to make “deeper inroads into eradicating water poverty” according to consumer watchdog, the Consumer Council for Water (CCW).

The call came in a CCW report,Water for all, that showed that households continued to struggle with water bills despite a significant increase in help from water companies.

Water for all found almost 700,000 low-income customers received bill reductions in 2018-19 through a range of assistance schemes – up 28% on the previous year. However 3m customers said their bills were unaffordable, and CCW found existing schemes had the potential to help less than half of those struggling to pay.

The water watchdog pushed the following messages:

  • customers are supportive of the idea of public funding being used finance water bill assistance;

  • help currently available from customer-funded social tariffs is extremely patchy, ranging from average bill reductions of between £19 and £271; and

  • water companies should boost social tariff coffers with a share of their profits (at present, only Welsh Water, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities do so).

CCW senior policy manager, Andy White, said: “Companies have the power to help many more struggling households by matching the generosity already being shown by other customers who are subsidising social tariffs.”

Water for all also found Priority Service Register numbers had swelled by more than a fifth in 2018-19, with almost 420,000 people have registered for extra help. CCW pointed out that despite this good progress “the overall percentage of households on PSRs remains very low and a long way short of reaching the 7% target Ofwat wants to see achieved by 2025.” It called for more collaborative working across the industry to raise awareness; to make registration easier; for more to be done to identify customers in need of temporary support; and for closer partnerships with referral organisations.

Water UK pointed to stable/falling bills and said affordability is an industry priority. It highlighted plans to provide financial support to 1.4m customers by 2025 and to the Public Interest Commitment pledge to make bills available to the water poor, and develop a strategy to end water poverty.

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