Struggling households are still missing out on vital support with paying their water bill despite more help being offered by water companies, the Consumer Council for Water has revealed.
The water watchdog has published a new report – Living With Water Poverty 2014: Keeping Your Head Above Water (pdf) – which offers a fresh insight into the pressures facing those on low incomes.
The report reveals that some water customers suffer in silence rather than seeking help with paying their water bill. This is despite an increasing willingness among water companies to extend practical and financial help to those who need it most.
Customers often don’t expect to be able to receive help from their water company. Awareness of water company assistance funds and schemes offering reduced charges for some customers in certain circumstances, such as WaterSure and Welsh Water Assist, remain low.
CCWater will now use the findings to work with the water industry and advise agencies to identify how support for those in debt or struggling to pay their bill can be improved, while also boosting awareness of existing assistance measures.
Andy White, senior policy manager at the Consumer Council for Water, said: “One in five water customers now tell us their water bill is not affordable – compared to one in eight last year.
“Customers who are struggling to pay should get in touch with their water company as soon as possible. CCWater has helped ensure the number of customers signing up for assistance has increased, but it’s still not enough. The Water industry should make it a priority to ensure customers know this help is available, and how to get it.
“Our own website ccwater.org.uk also highlights a variety of ways that customers can get help or make savings on their bills.”
The report’s other key findings include:
- Coping strategies used by those managing on a very limited budget include cutting back on expenditure of essential and non-essential items and relying on cheaper quality goods.
- Whilst those surveyed tended to consider water bills more affordable than other bills they are more likely to let water payments slip.
- Falling into debt is often triggered by major lifestyle changes that are largely out of people’s control
- Water companies, and some customers, seem more willing to discuss financial difficulties and negotiate extended payment periods than before.
- Customers are interested in having access to a single information resource to help them identify the support available with water bills.