Water companies must improve the way they engage with their customers to ensure those that are struggling most to afford their water bills don’t miss out on support.
Just over 1 in 4 households across England and Wales felt their finances had changed for the worse during the last year and those who were already struggling to afford their water bills faced even greater hardship, according to the Consumer Council for Water’s (CCW) annual Water Matters study.
The unemployed or those working in hospitality and call centres, people under 30 and those from an Asian or mixed ethnicity background were among those that felt their finances had got worse during 2020.
But some of these customers remain in the dark over the support available to help pay their water bill despite water companies’ efforts to bolster help for low-income households during the pandemic through schemes such as social tariffs and payment breaks.
Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said:
“Water companies have worked hard to boost support for customers during Covid-19 but the help is still not getting through to many of those who need it most.”
“We want to help water companies develop a better understanding of the customers they serve so they can overcome the numerous cultural, language and other barriers that prevent many of those most in need of help from accessing it.”
The study echoes the findings which emerged from the independent review of water affordability which CCW published last month when it reported back to the UK and Welsh Governments. The review found that 5 out of 6 customers who cannot afford their water bill were not receiving the help they need.
CCW put forward a raft of recommendations including measures to overcome low awareness of existing support which it now wants water companies to quickly adopt. These include making communications much clearer and more accessible with multi-lingual and easy-read versions of its customer advice.
Improving data sharing to better identify customers in need of help and taking more proactive steps to understand the communities they serve can help the industry target the hardest to reach customers.
CCW also wants the industry to carry out a ‘lessons learned’ exercise on the impact of Covid-19 within six months of lockdown being completely eased. Examples of best practice could then be identified and shared with other companies.
Overall this year’s findings suggest that water companies coped well in keeping their essential services running despite the challenges of the pandemic. About 9 out of 10 households remained satisfied with the service they received while 7 out of 10 customers felt their water company cared about providing a good service.
For more information or to arrange an interview please call Tim Clarke on 07778160803.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1 More than 5,400 household water customers across England and Wales were interviewed as part of the study between September 2020 and March 2021.