More water companies should pour some of their own profits into schemes designed to help cash-strapped households with their water bills, according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).
The Water Watchdog wants the industry to increase its funding of financial assistance for low-income customers, ahead of a 2 percent rise in the average water and sewerage bill in England and Wales from 1 April 2019.
The new charges were confirmed by Water UK will see the average bill increase by £8 to £415 in 2019/20. However, what customers end up paying will vary depending on their supplier and individual circumstances.
In most cases, companies will either cut bills or increase them below inflation while still undertaking substantial investment in the essential services they provide to customers.
Any increase will still be unwelcome for struggling households faced with other rising living costs and CCWater believes more can be done to help customers on a low income.
Tony Smith, Chief Executive of CCWater, said: “Many customers will see their bills rise from April, largely due to inflation. Even just a small increase has the potential to hurt the 3 million households who tell us they struggle to afford their water bills.”
“We’d like to see companies go further by dipping into their own pockets to help customers that are already feeling the pinch.”
More than half a million low-income households are already receiving subsidised water bills through customer-funded social tariffs. But the growth and impact of these schemes remains heavily constrained by other customers’ willingness to fund them. At present assistance for customers struggling to afford bills only reaches about a quarter of those who say they need help.
That’s why CCWater has called on the rest of the industry to follow the example of United Utilities, Welsh Water and Yorkshire Water by contributing some of their own cash to these social tariff schemes.
Households that do not qualify for help may find they can still cut their bills by switching from unmetered charges to a water meter. Some customers can save more than £100 a year and most companies will give households up to two years to trial a meter and switch back for free if they are worse off or unhappy with it.
CCWater has an online water meter calculator where customers can quickly check to see if they might be better off switching to a meter.
Customers can also take advantage of water-saving freebies offered by their water company, which can help them save money – as well as water – if they pay metered charges.
CCWater is currently working with companies on their pricing and investment plans for 2020-2025 to make sure they deliver more of what customers want at a price they find acceptable. The regulator Ofwat will make a final decision on each company’s plan in December 2019.