In May 2021 we unveiled the raft of recommendations to emerge from our independent review of water affordability support in England and Wales. Our report set out a clear and achievable plan to lift 1.5 million households out of water poverty – and broaden support for millions more households at risk of slipping into crisis.
Road testing the recommendations
Ten water companies are trialling nine of the actions we highlighted in the review through a series of 12 pilot schemes. These explore everything from simplifying the application process for support schemes to giving customers greater flexibility and control about how they pay. The companies have invested a huge amount of energy and commitment into the pilots – you can see how they are progressing on our pilot scheme web page
Single water affordability discount scheme
We are delighted that Defra and Welsh Government are leading work with CCW, water companies and other stakeholders to explore how a single scheme to replace the varying company social tariffs could be structured. The tariff is the central plank of our efforts to end water poverty. We are keen to ensure no customer spends more than 5 per cent of their income – after housing costs – on water bills. Read our research with consumers exploring aspects of this proposal
Company progress in adopting the proposals
Over half the actions from our review can be implemented by companies without action from others. In the months since the review was published, we’ve been tracking companies’ progress and their thinking on these measures. We have found that 82% of the actions were either already in place or being considered for implementation, demonstrating that water companies are really engaged in the process of improving support for customers. We will continue to work with companies to help them overcome any potential barriers to action or, where necessary, to find alternative ways to deliver the outcomes outlined in the recommendations.
Working with Ofwat
Ofwat has embraced the measures in the review that directly link to its work and it has now launched revised debt guidelines. It is also exploring the creation of a customer-focused company licence condition. This could include measures to ensure companies take into account a customer’s ability to pay and how it affects their customer journey. Ofwat held an initial workshop with companies and other stakeholders in June 2022.
Ofwat is also taking account of Defra and Welsh Government’s thinking on our recommendation for a single social tariff as they plan for the 2024 Price Review.
Working with Water UK
We are delighted to report that all companies are considering working towards the BSI standard on Inclusive Services or a new international standard, as a response to our recommendation that the sector develops a vulnerability commitment. We know some companies have this in place already, but are pleased that Water UK has worked with all companies to come up with this approach to delivering the recommendation.
Two of the review’s actions were the focus of attention at our seminar in October 2021. We looked at ways to create more consistent descriptions for similar company ‘help to pay’ schemes, while allowing companies to retain their current scheme brand name. Our seminar also explored whether there should be a core offer provided by company linked charitable trust funds. We have taken away actions on these including looking across other sectors to see if there are some already familiar terms that the sector could adopt. We also used the seminar to explore what the characteristics of a good trust fund scheme might look like. This work has now been completed and we have set out the principles of a good fund in our outcomes.