Blog: Think climate change, think accessibility

Janine Shackleton, Policy Manager
Janine Shackleton, Policy Manager

When you think of COP26, the link to people in vulnerable circumstances may not immediately spring to mind. Yet one of the main objectives of the summit is to challenge countries to adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. This includes building defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives. As we in the water sector set out to achieve a more resilient future, we must ensure that accessibility and inclusivity are a top priority within that.

Most of us recall the Beast from the East and the impact that had on people across the UK, especially for those left without water. The situation was further compounded by water companies failing to provide enough emergency water supplies, or adequate support for consumers in vulnerable circumstances – with poor communication having a significant impact. CCW’s own research revealed that, of all those who lost supplies, 40% received no communication from their water provider at all. Communication is a form of aid, and with extreme weather events becoming more frequent, we need to help people be prepared so that they know what to expect, what to do if they are impacted and how they can get the support they need.

Water companies have schemes, known as priority services, which allow customers to register for free additional support so that, whatever their circumstances, they have appropriate access to water and sewerage services. When a water supply issue occurs, companies use this data to prioritise getting support to those who need it the most, with top priority going to those whose lives are at risk – this means people with a medical need for water at home, such as those on home dialysis.

The data also provides companies with information regarding people who may need extra help because of health and wellbeing issues – for example, people with mobility issues, disability, cognitive impairment or mental health conditions which prevent them from leaving their home in an emergency.

This information is vital for protecting homes, lives and livelihoods. However, water companies’ access to it is dependent on a customer a) knowing that they need to contact their water supplier to be put on the priority services scheme, and b) having the physical and emotional ability to do so. Yet, as our latest Water Mark assessment shows, more than half of water customers in England and Wales are not even aware of this extra help. What is more, those who are most likely to require extra help are among those who face the greatest barriers to accessing assistance schemes.

To address this, CCW is calling for the government to make data sharing between departments and organisations easier. Providing water companies with the details of individuals who may need extra help in advance of incidents will enable the companies to contact the people affected to discuss what support they need and make sure they get the appropriate level of help when they need it. The current process of waiting for an incident to happen and then sharing the data through the local resilience forums delays the support getting to those most in need.

With extreme weather events increasingly likely, more needs to be done to ensure a resilient future not just for some but for all.

CCW is asking MPs and Members of Senedd to help by:

  • Writing to the Minister to support CCW’s campaign to improve information-sharing across government departments, to make sure water companies can get support to those who need it most.
  • Talking to the water companies operating in their constituency about how they’re engaging and raising awareness of the available support with hard-to-reach communities in their area.
  • In England, putting pressure on the Government to make it compulsory (as it is in Wales) for landlords to provide water companies with details of their tenants.