In their business plans for 2020-25, water companies have certainly shown more ambition in improving their current offerings in the area of affordability. But do the proposals go far enough? Gemma Domican, Policy Manager at the Consumer Council for Water, shares the top three ways companies can do more.
Over the past few years, CCWater has pressed water companies – both through direct engagement and as members of Customer Challenge Groups (CCGs) – to put customers at the heart of their plans. One of the key ways companies can do this is by providing assistance to those who were struggling to pay their water bills.
Three million struggling to pay
Our customer research (2017-18) indicates that around three million households in England and Wales find their water charges unaffordable. While we estimate that the current social tariff and WaterSure schemes have the future potential to support around 750,000 households, this would still leave around three quarters of those who need help without any support at all. There is therefore still a long way to go before the industry is even close to eradicating water poverty.
Here are three ways in which water companies can improve their plans:
- A wider range of options – To tackle water poverty, water companies need a suite of diverse options to cover different types of customers. Many companies have taken this on board in their plans and are offering additional options such as payment matching, payment holidays and affordable payment plans. Not all companies however, have plans for such a diverse range of options.
- A step change in the amount of customers helped in a meaningful way – Many companies have put in proposals which significantly increase the amount of help they will offer, but there is still scope to increase this for some companies. We also want companies to be making a real difference to those they are helping. It’s no good just reducing a customer’s payments if they still can’t afford the payment plans they are put on. Any help given needs to be meaningful and the level of assistance given currently varies across the industry.
- Funding – Lastly, but most importantly, companies should be putting in their own money to assist those in need. Our research shows that customers are more willing to give additional money to help those that are struggling to pay if the company is also making a contribution. There are very few companies who currently do this. If the companies were to match customers’ contributions from their own profits, this would significantly increase the number of customers who could be helped.
Keeping up the pressure
CCWater will continue to press companies, and the regulator, to strengthen water companies’ plans in the area of affordability. We want to see the implementation of a longer-term solution to the funding of social tariffs in order to ensure we achieve universal water affordability in the future.
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