Struggling households urged to seek water bill help with Universal Credit cut looming

27th September 2021

Universal Credit claimants that are set to see their payments cut next month are being urged to make sure they don’t miss out on untapped support to keep their water bills affordable.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) says water companies have a range of schemes that could ease some of the pressure on households who will see their income reduced by £20 a week at the same time energy prices are set to rise.

Low awareness remains a major obstacle to many customers accessing help with three-quarters of consumers unaware water companies have schemes that can reduce the bills of low-income households. Other help is available too with more than 100,000 customers have signed up to payment breaks since the pandemic erupted and options such as payment-matching, crisis funds and debt write-off schemes.

CCW is working with the industry to break down the barriers to help and strengthen existing support through its own package of proposals which – with the backing of the water industry and government – could end water poverty for 1.5 million customers across England and Wales.

Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said “There is a crisis looming for many vulnerable households this autumn which has increased the urgency for the industry to bring to life our plans to strengthen support with water bills.”

“We know existing support does not go far enough to end water poverty but it does have the potential to ease the pressure on some households as they head towards an uncertain winter. It’s vital anyone who is struggling financially gets in touch with their water company.”

Research from the Trussell Trust found that one in five Universal Credit claimants believe it’s likely they will have to skip meals when their payments are reduced from October. Stories have also emerged through CCW’s own research of consumers already going to extreme lengths to save on water and energy costs – including missing meals or washing clothes while taking a shower.

CCW wants to help end these cases of extreme hardship through the recommendations in its review of water affordability which was published in May 2021. This includes the creation of a single social tariff for England and Wales that would ensure no-one ever has to spend more than 5 per cent of their income – after housing costs – on water bills. It would end the patchwork of support currently provided by different water company schemes.

Some water companies are already actively working with CCW on other plans to make it easier for their customers to access help on everything from making payments and clearing debt to reducing their water consumption.

A series of pilot schemes are up and running or in the pipeline including efforts by Dwr Cymru Welsh Water and South Staffs and Cambridge Water to increase the prominence of advice on accessing help with financial assistance. United Utilities is also looking at increasing options to make payments more flexible so they can adjust to some customers’ more unpredictable income patterns.