Social Justice

Three million households are struggling to keep up with water payments

Researchers said some people have to choose between paying their water bills and other essentials like food and heating

One in eight households in England and Wales say their water bills are unaffordable – with assistance schemes helping less than half of the people who need it.

Since last year there has been a 30 per cent increase – encompassing 700,000 people – in the number of households whose bills have been reduced through the schemes, but there are still as many as three million struggling to pay the water charges.

A report from the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) showed that some people are forced to sacrifice other essentials like food and heating to make sure their water bills are paid on time.

The research also highlighted the postcode lottery customers face when in need of help to pay. The inconsistent level of support available by area was reflected in the wildly varied average bill reductions people received, from £271 to as little as £19.

Andy White, senior policy manager for CCWater, said plenty of people still “suffer in silence” when it comes to struggling to pay their water bill.

He added: “No one should ever have to make that choice [between food and water].

“Companies have the power to help many more struggling households by matching the generosity already being shown by other customers who are subsidising social tariffs.”

Companies could plough profits into creating social tariffs that are more affordable for low-income customers, but only three firms do so at present: Welsh Water, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities.

In Scotland, water bills are primarily included in council tax payments.

But regulator Ofwat set a target of seven per cent of households in England and Wales to be registered for support by 2025  – a figure that is still a long way off, the report suggested.

CCWater is calling for a “radical rethink” of how financial assistance is funded so that the industry can really tackle water poverty.

The report urged water companies to work on making it easier for friends, relatives and neighbours to let firms know about the support someone close to them might need, or of any vulnerable customers who might need additional help – much like the energy sector earlier this year – recommending the creation of referral partnerships with local organisations that can reach into communities.

A spokesperson for trade body Water UK said: “Ensuring water bills are affordable, especially for the most vulnerable, is a priority for water companies.

“Bills have remained pretty much the same since 1994 in real terms, and by 2025 there will have been a decade of real terms reductions in bills, which currently average around £1 a day.

“Almost 700,000 vulnerable customers are currently receiving help to pay their bills from their supplier, up 28 per cent, but we have plans to go even further, with companies planning to help 1.4 million customers by 2025.

“In addition, through our public interest commitment, water companies will make bills affordable for all households with water and sewerage bills which are more than 5 per cent of their disposable income by 2030.”

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