Water companies need to 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 has revealed about a third of household customers in England and Wales have little awareness of the range of support services available from their water company.1
The water consumer watchdog 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. Schemes such as social tariffs can substantially reduce the water bills of low-income households but only 1 in 20 customers told CCW they were aware this support exists.
CCW is calling on the industry to make a concerted effort to raise awareness of assistance schemes – particularly 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 unable to afford their bills, according to the research.
More positively, the survey shows 76 per cent of customers think they get value for money from their water company while 66 per cent agree their bills are fair – both marking an increase on the previous year.
Almost 750,000 customers have signed up to water companies’ social tariffs but that still doesn’t come close to addressing the scale of the problem
r Mike Keil, Head of Policy and Research at CCW, said: “Now – more than ever – households need to know their water company is on their side and there to help them if things takes a turn for the worst. Water companies have a wide range of schemes that can help customers through difficult times but they must do more to empower households with the knowledge they need to seek help.”
Almost 750,000 customers have signed up to water companies’ social tariffs but that still doesn’t come close to addressing the scale of the problem.
About 1 in 10 customers 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 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 1 in 10 households 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.
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.