- 1 in 8 consumers in Wales say they struggle to afford their water bill
- About a third of customers have little awareness of water company support and are less likely to contact them for help – according to water consumer body CCW’s annual survey
- Under 25s, over 75s, Black-Caribbean and ethnic minority groups most at risk of missing out on financial support with bill
- Consumer body CCW says water companies must build a stronger relationship with customer
- 66 per cent of customers in Wales think their water company’s charges are fair – down on previous year
Water companies in Wales must build a stronger relationship with their customers to reduce the risk of households missing out on vital help with their water bills and other assistance when they hit hard times.
The Consumer Council for Water’s (CCW) annual survey Water Matters (pdf) has revealed about a third of household customers have little awareness of the range of support services available from their water company.1
CCW – the voice for water consumers in Wales – fears this could prevent some of the households worst affected by the impact of coronavirus or other serious situations from accessing financial and practical support from their water company.
Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Hafren Dyfrdwy both provide social tariff schemes that can substantially reduce the water bills of low-income households. However, only 1 in 20 customers are aware this support exists, according to the survey.
CCW is calling on both companies to make a concerted effort to raise awareness of assistance schemes among the under 24s, over 75s, Black-Caribbean and minority ethnic groups and those with no internet access. These customers are among the least likely to reach out for help, even if they are worried about being able to afford their bill.
The survey also revealed that households in Wales generally remain more satisfied with their water company than customers in England. However, the amount of customers who were satisfied they received value for money (77%) or that their charges were fair (66%) fell significantly compared to last year.
Phil Marshall, Deputy Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), said: “The past few months have shown us that our lives can change very suddenly and people need to know their water company is there to support them through challenging times.”
“Water companies in Wales have a wide range of schemes that can help customers with their bills or provide practical support but too many households remain in the dark over this assistance.”
About 100,000 customers in Wales have signed up to water companies’ social tariffs but that still doesn’t come close to addressing the scale of the problem.
One in eight customers in Wales told CCW their water bill was unaffordable but that number could grow significantly in the coming months as more households are caught up in the financial fallout from COVID-19.
Other schemes like WaterSure Wales can cap the bills of some metered customers that are in receipt of welfare benefits and have to use a lot of water due to their circumstances. But just over 1 in 10 households in Wales are aware of this support.
Water companies also need to step up their efforts to raise awareness of their Priority Services, which provide free practical support to customers in vulnerable circumstances. Awareness of these services – which includes the delivery of bottled water to a customer’s doorstep during a loss of water supply – has fallen over the past six years to 42 per cent in Wales.
These services can provide a lifeline to households during periods of disruption, particularly the one in ten customers who say they would be unable to access bottled water if they lost their mains water supply for more than a few hours.
Households in need of assistance with bills or other practical support and advice should take a look at our website for more information.
For more information or to arrange an interview with CCW, please call the media team on 0121 345 1005.
1 The results in Water Matters (pdf) are based on a sample size of 6,310 household water customers in England and Wales. Interviews took place between September 2019 and March 2020. CCW carried out additional analysis of the results and explored this in its Highlights report.