Water companies are taking all possible measures to help vulnerable customers and ensure households will not struggle to pay their bill during the national crisis according to Water UK. As yet there is no set policy for what billpayers will be offered but payment collections will be halted as part of the measures offered by the sector.
Water UK says water companies in England and Wales have stepped up efforts to help customers who have lost their jobs or had their incomes cut during the coronavirus crisis.The companies are encouraging households suffering from immediate or short-term issues with paying their bills to get in contact so that they can receive help.All water companies have measures in place for people who struggle to pay their water and wastewater services. During the current crisis, companies are reaching out to their household customers to encourage them or people they know to take advantage of the assistance available.
In summary, the companies are:
- Using the full range of their schemes to help customers who are struggling to pay their bills in these difficult circumstances
- Encouraging customers who are struggling financially to go to their local water company’s website to find out about the help available to them
- Actively offering payment breaks or payment holidays for anyone in financial difficulties as a result of Covid-19
- Adjusting payment plans urgently to help with sudden changes in household finances
- Simplifying the processes for customers to get extra assistance, making it as easy as possible for customers to get the help they need
- Helping customers get advice on benefits and managing debts, particularly for customers who have not been in financial difficulties before
- Stopping new court applications on unpaid bills during the current restrictions, and stopping any enforcement visits
In addition, water companies are seeking out customers who may have trouble paying due to being unable to leave their house. Alternative payment methods as well as additional support are being made available for customers in this situation.
Each water company has its own scheme to help customers who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances – schemes such as social tariffs and discounts, and payment breaks.
To help the public keep themselves, their families and their communities protected from the spread of Covid-19 water companies, and their partners, will stop all collections visits. Instead, they will use other channels to contact customers.
Water UK Chief Executive Christine McGourty said “We know that it’s an extremely difficult time for everyone at the moment, and the last thing we’d want is for anyone to worry about how they’ll pay their water bill.”
Meanwhile CCW – the voice for water consumers – says many customers could benefit from existing schemes including payment breaks, WaterSure and social tariffs which can substantially reduce the bills of customers on a low income. The consumer group is working closely with water companies across England and Wales as they consider what more they can do to expand their support for households that have suddenly found themselves in vulnerable circumstances due to the unfolding health crisis.
Andy White, Senior Policy Manager at CCW, said “Water companies can play a huge role in helping to support their customers through these unprecedented challenges, and we expect them to use every tool at their disposal.”
“We’re all having to adapt our lives but the impact on each household will vary considerably and that’s where water companies need to be flexible. That might mean offering support through payment breaks and reduced tariffs or by helping people switch the way they pay their bill if they currently do so in person, but are now having to self-isolate.”
Tony Smith, Chief Executive of water consumer group CCW, said “We’re really pleased that water companies are showing a willingness to be flexible at a time when the impact of coronavirus will be putting an enormous strain on some households’ finances. It’s really important that customers who are struggling in any way don’t wait to be asked and actively reach out for support, whether that’s help paying a bill or getting other practical assistance.”
“The water industry already helps 900,000 customers to pay their bills and has a commitment to increase this to 1.5 million by 2025.”
“Working with consumer bodies and others, over the next few days and weeks all water companies in England and Wales will actively publicise the schemes they have as well as the charitable and other help available to those who may be struggling. This includes the nationwide scheme to help customers on benefits who need large amounts of water. We will keep customers fully informed of any further updates to the help available during this unprecedented time.”
“Low-income households can check to see if they’re eligible for their water company’s social tariff. These schemes can substantially reduce the bills of cash-strapped customers by as much as 90 per cent in some cases. As well as flexible payment plans or breaks, some metered customers who receive income-related benefits might also be eligible for WaterSure. The scheme caps the bills of customers who have to use a lot of water due to having a medical condition or large household.”