Lockdown may be easing but the strain will remain on many small businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. If your company has been disrupted or hit financially it’s worth checking to see if you’re eligible for support with your water bills while you get back on your feet. Our policy manager Adam Boyns explains how recent regulatory changes could make it easier for you to access help.
My business has had to temporarily close – what should I do?
One of the most important initial changes made at the end of March allowed businesses that have had to close to be classified as ‘vacant’. If your company falls into this category, it will receive no bill or a greatly reduced bill.
It’s vital you let your retailer know if you’ve closed and provide them with some evidence that you’ve shut – for example, an email or website notification for your customers. And remember – if you still need to use some water on your premises for things like cleaning, you may be charged for this after the next meter reading is taken.
As long as your premises is classed as ‘vacant’, you will not be chased for any debt that you may still owe from before you closed, nor will you face disconnection for non-payment.
We’ve put together some help and guidance on temporary vacant properties and what you can expect once you start to re-open your business.
My business is still operating but using a lot less water than normal – what do I do?
The simplest and most effective way to show that you are using less water is to provide your retailer with meter readings. However, it may not be safe to do so given the current restrictions that are in place and retailers are unlikely to take readings either.
Without these readings you may continue to receive estimated bills based on past usage, which don’t reflect what you are currently using. We would urge you to contact your retailer and look for any help and guidance that they have published on their website. We expect retailers to work with you to ensure your bills are as accurate as possible and take into account your reduced consumption.
I cannot afford to pay my outstanding bill – can I get help?
Temporary measures introduced from early June – and in place until 31 March 2021 – have given business customers extra breathing room if they’re in danger of falling behind on water bill payments. Retailers have to offer you a repayment scheme, which should be tailored to fit your particular circumstances. Your supplier should take into account your ability to pay any outstanding amounts, including interest and/or late payment charges. We would also expect retailers to have taken all reasonable steps to help you to pay before they consider taking any debt recovery action.
It’s vital you let your retailer know you’re struggling to afford your bills as soon as possible, so you can work out a suitable payment plan. If you are in disagreement with them about what you can afford, they should also be clear about what type of evidence they will consider.
How can CCW help my business?
We will continue to do everything in our power to support business customers through these uncertain times – particularly those anxious about not being able to afford their bills. That’s why we’re working closely with water retailers to make sure they treat their customers fairly, and we won’t hesitate to challenge them if they fail to do so.
We’re also monitoring the market with regulator Ofwat to make sure that retailers are taking necessary steps to enable struggling customers to make affordable payments. If we see evidence that some are being unfairly penalised through debt recovery action, we will ask Ofwat to step in.