When we published the findings of our independent review of water affordability support in May, we also announced that a number of water companies had already committed to trial key recommendations from the review. The findings would then be shared with the wider sector.
The pilot scheme programme is exploring nine different actions identified by the review. The pilots are at different stages but some have already produced encouraging results.
Developing a simplified application process for support schemes
The company is working with its customers and stakeholders to co-design a simple application process that will cover several aspects of support. As well as identifying the easiest way to access support, the project will also be looking at what type of language and imagery to use, so any application forms are easy to understand and complete.
Making information about support more visible
Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and South Staffs & Cambridge Water
The companies are trialling and assessing the value of a range of measures to increase the prominence of information about the financial assistance available to customers. It aims to encourage customers to make contact to discuss support options if they are struggling to pay.
Welsh Water has completed its pilot. The recommendation was for companies to use messages on envelopes to raise awareness of financial support to customers. While Welsh Water haven’t yet seen a statistical increase in take up in response, they believe it is early days and will be implementing this approach permanently. Some advertisers believe messages need to be seen multiple times before having an impact. Welsh Water will share their findings going forwards to encourage other companies to adopt this relatively simple change, to raise awareness of financial support.
Developing a framework for understanding communities
Severn Trent Water and Yorkshire Water
Severn Trent is leading a collaborative project with CCW, United Utilities, Thames Water, and South East Water to understand how to improve its support for hard-to-reach customers when they need it most. The company is drawing on a range of methods, including data and behavioural science, to develop the best messaging and support for individual customers’ circumstances. The project team will then share its findings with the sector with the ambition of making a step-change in the way companies engage with customers.
Yorkshire Water is also undertaking a pilot to better understand the make-up of its communities and their needs. It will build and test a new way of engaging with people that helps build relationships and trust through a sustained local community presence.
Forging stronger links between water efficiency and affordability strategies
The company has been analysing how its water efficiency programme can support efforts to tackle affordability. Technology to link smart meter data with affordability and billing systems needs development. However, in some cases, the company found that the cost of the water efficiency visits to a customer who is struggling to pay their bill and is in arrears is outweighed by the savings from reducing bad debt costs over three years. Thames Water wants to do more work on the customer engagement rate, which it felt was fairly low, as it believes there are more households it can help.
Exploring the development of a single online support hub
The company is working with several companies to create a single hub for customers to access financial and other support across different utilities. Its recent Innovation Festival featured a design sprint to kick-off this work. There are other organisations working on this idea as well, which is still at a relatively early stage.
The company is trialling a flexible digital payment plan called PayAsUGo (PAYG), which gives customers the option to pay at whatever frequency suits their personal circumstances. Customers must just commit to meeting the agreed payment milestones on their payment schedule. United Utilities is promoting this option directly with customers, as well as partnering with third party debt agencies.
Helping customers awaiting Univeral Credit awards
South Staffs and Cambridge Water
South Staffs and Cambridge Water have launched a scheme to give a 100 per cent bill discount for eight weeks when a customer has successfully applied for its Assure social tariff, while also waiting for a Universal Credit claim to be processed. After the initial eight weeks, the customer moves to the normal social tariff. The company will assess the benefits of the scheme, including whether engagement with financially vulnerable consumers at a time of acute vulnerability helps encourage ongoing engagement.
United Utilities is also leading a Universal Credit transition pilot. It is increasing promotion of the support it has available for customers who are transitioning onto Universal Credit, offering customers the option to defer payments for up to eight weeks.
Highlighting financial support to those registering for Priority Services
The company is promoting its financial support within its welcome pack for customers who have signed up to its Priority Services Register (PSR). Five per cent of customers have clicked through from that information, but it aims to increase that rate and bolster promotion of its PSR and social tariff.
More frequent billing
The company is about to embark on a pilot that allows customers to pay on a monthly basis for their actual water usage, rather than paying via a fixed monthly payment. It has identified the customer groups to target, designed the communications and a process to test customer sentiment. It is currently working to overcome the challenges of introducing flexibility into a structured billing and metering system.
For more information about the pilot schemes please contact Lucy.Byrnes@ccwater.org.uk