Rise in consumer debt calls for swift action, says local water watchdog

Figures published today show that in 2005/06 water customers in England and Wales owed £491 million of debt that was more than 12 months old, an increase of 6.5% on the £461 million in 2004-05.  Given this growing problem, the Consumer Council for Water Northumbria is urging water customers who are struggling to pay their bills to contact their water company as soon to possible to discuss the options available to them.

This advice comes in the light of new figures from Ofwat which focus on industry debt level and recovery costs.

Andrea Cook, Chairman of the Consumer Council for Water Northumbria, said: “Higher living costs such as rising utility bills mean an increasing number of people are struggling to find the money to pay their water bills on time.  It is vital that customers of Northumbrian Water and Hartlepool Water know that they should contact their company immediately if they are finding it difficult to make payments.

“The Council is also encouraging companies to develop their understanding of which customers have genuine difficulties, and which are simply seeking to avoid payment. We support companies taking firm action against those who can afford to pay but don’t, allowing them to focus assistance towards those in real need.”

Options available to help prevent customers accumulating debt include:

  • Flexible payment plans – these can help customers budget and make in-roads into outstanding debt;
  • Consider transferring to a meter which can help to monitor water use and cost (usually smaller households and/or those with a high rateable value will benefit);
  • Those who already have a meter can look at ways of saving water without compromising on essential usage.  For example, try installing a water-saving device in your toilet cistern, such as a hippo or a bog hog ; and
  • Apply for the vulnerable customer tariff – if you are eligible, this tariff scheme can assist metered customers receiving certain benefits who either have a large family or a medical condition requiring extra water usage.

Your water company will be able to give more details on all of these options.