Consumer watchdog pledges to help more households access water company support

A fresh bid to break down the barriers to households getting the support they need from their water company during Covid-19 and other periods of disruption has been launched by the industry’s consumer watchdog.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) has today published its Vulnerability Manifesto which sets out a series of commitments to make sure more consumers get the right help at the right time from their water company.

CCW’s pledges include ensuring that at least 60 per cent of consumers are aware of priority services by 2025 – up from 42 per cent. These additional services enable consumers in temporary or long-term vulnerable circumstances to receive practical help tailored to their needs. It also wants 95 per cent of households to be satisfied with the support they receive through them.

The watchdog will provide companies with a template for success to help ensure consumers get the information they need, precisely when they need it during major incidents such as supply interruptions.

The launch of the manifesto comes against the backdrop of low consumer awareness of financial and practical support from water companies, according to CCW’s annual Water for All report (pdf).

Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said:

“The Covid-19 crisis presents water companies with a golden opportunity to build stronger relationships with their customers and be seen as a source of invaluable support. Too many households are unaware of the financial and practical help they’re entitled to but by launching our Vulnerability Manifesto we aim to inject greater urgency into the efforts of companies to reach out and support their communities.”

Rachel Fletcher, Chief Executive of Ofwat, said:

“Improving the experience of water customers  – particularly those who are vulnerable – is at the heart of what Ofwat is here to do. The ongoing pandemic in this country will affect customers in different ways and so we expect companies to do everything they can to help customers who need it. We will continue to work with CCW and the sector to ensure customers have access to the support they need, as well as exploring what else we can do to tackle issues regarding debt and affordability in the coming months.”

Almost 900,000 low-income households received bill reductions worth about £150 million during 2019-20 – up 28 per cent on the previous year – as water companies assisted customers through schemes such as social tariffs.

CCW remains concerned that this financial help is only reaching about a third of the 3 million households who have told the consumer watchdog their water bills are not affordable – a number that is likely to grow significantly as the economic damage caused by COVID-19 unravels.

Last month CCW launched an independent review on behalf of the UK and Welsh Governments into the range of financial support currently on offer to water customers facing hardship. CCW is working with organisations from across the industry and beyond to identify new opportunities to make sure households get meaningful help, when they need it. The review’s recommendations will be published next spring.

Consumers who need financial or other forms of assistance from their water company can find a range of support guides, tools and advice at www.ccwater.org.uk

For more information or to arrange an interview with a consumer expert from CCW’s affordability team call 0121 345 1005.

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