Affordable bills for all customers under new proposals

image of mother and child suffering financial difficultyRecommendations unveiled by the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) aim to end water poverty and increase support for millions of households across England and Wales.

Proposals have been unveiled to end the postcode lottery of support for millions of households across England and Wales which are unable to afford their water bill and to improve access to wider help. In the proposals that have been outlined today by CCW, around 1.5 million customers, who are currently living in water poverty, would have their bills made affordable and have their access to wider help improved. This has led to an independent review into the affordability of water on behalf of the UK and Welsh governments.

It’s just one of a number of proposed measures that would improve the lives of millions more households, making it easier for them to access help from their water company on everything from making payments and clearing debt, to reducing their water consumption.

The review found that five out of six customers who cannot afford their water bill were not receiving the help they need, despite a significant rise in water company support schemes over the past decade. That’s because some of these schemes remained hampered by insufficient funding and large regional variations in eligibility criteria, resulting in a ‘postcode lottery’ of help.

One of the key recommendations to overcome this would be the creation of a single social tariff for England and Wales, that would ensure no one ever has to spend more than five per cent of their income on water bills. This would also end the patchwork of support provided by different water company schemes.

"We have a golden opportunity to create a simpler and fairer system and end the indignity of people skipping meals or other essentials to pay their water bill. Many people are craving certainty in these difficult times and these proposed changes would give millions of households one less thing to worry about and greater peace of mind – whatever the future holds."

Emma Clancy, chief executive, Consumer Council for Water.

A single social tariff would ensure people received consistent and fair support based on their income and need – not where they live. Those that were eligible would benefit from an average bill reduction of £190. The scheme could be funded through public expenditure or a customer cross-subsidy.

We want to have a water sector that delivers for all and I’d like to thank CCW for their hard work to review the effectiveness of the existing schemes. The review sets out practical recommendations to deliver on our levelling up agenda, exploring new ways of doing things that could help the most vulnerable customers. I look forward to considering these further and working with the sector to build a stronger, better and fairer water service for those who need it most.”

Rebecca Pow MP, environmental minister, UK Government.

The report also recommends water companies take steps to develop a better understanding of their customers’ needs and raise awareness of the support they can offer.

“We welcome the proposals outlined by the Consumer Council for Water, which would ensure that financial support is available to millions of customers who are currently living in water poverty. We pride ourselves on putting our customers first, which is why we continue to offer access to reduced social tariffs, flexible debt repayment plans, and water-saving advice.

We currently provide financial support to over 48,000 customers across our supply regions – with over 37,000 of those customers accessing our social tariff, Assure. We are also committed to keeping bills affordable, which is demonstrated by our consistent bill prices until 2025, offering certainty to all of our customers.”

Rachael Merrell, customer delivery director, Cambridge Water.

The industry would be expected to continue to help fund a wider range of measures designed to prevent at least three million more households on the cusp of crisis slipping into water poverty. These would include giving water customers greater choice and control over how they pay their water bill, using the latest technologies and providing more tailored financial help.

Companies would also be asked to write-off water charges while social tariff applicants are waiting for their first payment of Universal Credit, and to offer long-term bill incentives for low-income households with relatively low water use to switch to a water meter.

Many of the recommendations in the report could be rolled out immediately with the support of water companies, and a number of pilot schemes are already in the pipeline.

Independent review of water affordability

Read the full report on the Consumer Council for Water's website.

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Posted: 26 May 2021