Water companies must do more to help struggling consumers

An average £2 rise in water costs next year will still hit home at the hard-up

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The Independent Online

Water companies have been told to make sure that hard-up customers are given the help they need. The Consumer Council for Water said firms must improve the way they deal with people struggling to pay bills.

Yesterday Water UK revealed that the average water and sewerage bill in England and Wales will rise by £2 to £389 in 2016/17. That may be a small increase but it will still hit low-income households struggling to afford bills, said Tony Smith, chief executive of CCWater.

“Our research shows that one in eight customers in England and Wales are already finding it difficult to afford their water bill,” he said. The Watchdog wants water companies to do more to ensure that customers who are struggling or unable to pay their bill get the help they need, such as by raising awareness of social tariffs and other assistance schemes.

Water UK said the price increase would help water companies invest £44bn over five years in better services, greater resilience and environmental improvements.

Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: "For just over £1 a day, households across the country can have access to high quality water services day and night. Water companies understand the pressures on customers' pockets and are committed to keeping household bills as low as possible while still investing in vital improvements."

But CCWater pointed out that the figures show average bills while what customers actually end up paying will vary depending on individual circumstances. That means some struggling customers may end up paying even more for their water.

It said households who are already struggling to pay their bill should contact their water company and ask for help.

The water watchdog is also supporting struggling customers by working with poverty relief charity Turn2us to launch an online benefits calculator and grants search tool to enable customers to identify additional income to help them to pay their bills.

The tools are available on the CCWater website – www.ccwater.org.uk – along with a water meter calculator which customers can use to find out whether they would save money by switching to a water meter.

The good news is that the price change marks the second wave of charges under the five-year price setting deal finalised by Ofwat, the industry’s regulator, in December 2014 which aims for household bills to fall by an average 5 per cent before inflation between 2015 and 2020.

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