Collaboration, communication and consistency are three key ways in which water companies can improve the way they deliver priority support to consumers in vulnerable circumstances, according to new guidance published today (27 September) by the Consumer Council for Water.
March’s severe cold weather – and the rapid thaw that followed – put a spotlight on the water sector, with widespread disruption to networks leaving more than 200,000 people without water for up to four days. Consumers who found themselves in vulnerable circumstances were among the worst affected; with the vast majority (93%) saying they did not get any additional support from their company.
Although all water companies operate schemes that customers can register for which provide free additional support, known as Priority Services Schemes, many customers reported finding themselves in vulnerable circumstances either unexpectedly or temporarily during March’s freezing conditions. This ‘transient vulnerability’ highlights the need for water companies to take a more dynamic and flexible approach to identifying and assisting all consumers in vulnerable circumstances, all year round.
By gathering together examples of good practice from the water industry and beyond, CCWater’s guidance aims to encourage innovation in the provision of additional support while demonstrating how water companies can meet the challenges in delivering priority support more effectively: raising awareness of what support is available, offering the right kind of support, and delivering this at the right time.
Collaboration with other organisations, opening up wider channels of communication, and delivering consistent access to services for vulnerable consumers all year round – and not just in a crisis – are three core themes explored by CCWater’s good practice guide.
Janine Shackleton, Policy Manager, said: “There has been some positive progress towards improving vulnerability services in the water sector, resulting in 18% more people registering for priority services in 2017-18. But we think more can be done to offer consumers a tailored service based on individual needs.
“Our examples show that by working together with other organisations – such as local councils, cultural groups and emergency services – water companies can successfully reach out to a wider range of consumers to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of what help is available should they need it, now or in the future.”
CCWater’s good practice guide, entitled Vulnerability in the water sector: Informing, supporting and protecting consumers, can be downloaded here: