A major review has been launched into existing assistance schemes for customers struggling to pay their water bills.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) has issued a call for evidence after being asked by the UK and Welsh Governments to undertake an independent review of the support currently on offer to water customers in financial hardship.
Robert Light, Chair of CCW, commented on the announcement: “Financial help for struggling water customers was in danger of running dry even before COVID-19 so the time is ripe for us to explore how we can put in place fair and sustainable long-term support.
“We will work with other organisations during the review to look at how we can build on the progress that has been made and make much deeper inroads into reducing water poverty.”
The consumer watchdog will work with organisations from across the industry and beyond to identify new opportunities to make sure households in financially vulnerable circumstances get the help they need.
The water industry has already taken significant strides towards tackling water poverty over the past decade with more than 900,000 households now receiving ongoing help through reduced water bills.
Many others are also being assisted through a variety of schemes such as payment breaks.
However, the funding of this support falls short of addressing the scale of the problem and will be stretched even further beyond its limits as more people suffer financially at the hands of COVID-19.
One of the main sources of support has come through the emergence of water companies’ social tariff schemes.
These can substantially reduce the bills of households on a low income but rely heavily on other customers’ willingness to fund them.
It has led to companies developing schemes across England and Wales that can vary considerably in terms of eligibility, the value of the assistance provided and the number of households that can be potentially helped each year before funding is exhausted.
Christine McGourty, Chief Executive of Water UK, added: “The range and level of support for customers has never been greater, with more than 900,000 households currently getting help to pay their bills, and that’s set to rise to 1.5 million.
“Water companies made a joint voluntary commitment last year to tackle the issue of water poverty for the long term.
“This review is a welcome opportunity to review what’s in place and ensure customers get the help they need, particularly in these difficult economic times.”
CCW wants to hear the views of individuals and organisations on what needs to change to improve the support for households as part of its call for evidence, closing on 15 December 2020.
The watchdog will then present its findings and recommendations in Spring 2021.
More information about the review and submitting evidence is available here