Are water companies doing enough to promote the types of financial support available for cash-strapped customers? Ahead of a 2 per cent rise in the average water and sewerage bill in England and Wales from 1 April 2019, Senior Policy Manager Andy White examines some of the ways water companies are working to support households who are struggling to pay, and to raise awareness of that help.
Reaching those in need
Recent research by Echo Managed Services has revealed that just over 20% of people are aware that they could gain access to special discounted tariffs from their utility company, if they fall behind on payments. This supports our own findings that customer awareness of the support available from water companies is still low. Across England and Wales, less than 10% of people are aware of WaterSure. This scheme limits metered bills for customers who receive income-related benefits and need to use a lot of water because they have a large family or a medical condition. But why is there such a gap in awareness?
Our research shows that customers experiencing financial difficulties simply don’t expect their water company to help them. Companies can also find it difficult to track which customers need help, particularly when there is a sudden change in circumstances.
Understanding when changes– such as illness or becoming a new parent – might mean they qualify for help can be difficult for customers too. People often wrongly assume that their financial difficulties aren’t severe enough to be eligible.
However, water companies are offering an increasingly wide range of schemes to help customers in different circumstances. One example of this is the introduction of ‘payment breaks’, which are being used to help households who are ‘just about managing’ to get through difficult periods.
We’re helping companies share good practice in this area so more customers gain access to the help they need.
Companies are also beginning to recognise the benefits of helping customers address their wider financial circumstances. Many companies will now refer customers to independent financial charities. These can help them agree affordable payments for all their household bills or even access unclaimed benefits.
Are you missing out?
Having a water meter installed for free can sometimes deliver big bill reductions. Some households can save more than £100 a year. Our water meter calculator, can help you check if you might be better off by switching. Most companies give you two years to trial one and to decide if it’s right for you.
If you think you may need additional help, speak to your water company or find out more about the types of support available.