Over half of water bill payers believe they will struggle to pay a utility bill over the coming year, new research shows

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Just over half of water bill payers believe they will struggle to pay a utility bill over the coming year, rising to 7 in 10 if there are children in the household, according to new Ofwat research.

A third of those who expect their financial situation to get a lot worse in the next year report feeling depressed.

While fewer customers report concern with their water bill compared to, for example, electricity and gas bills, it is important the water sector is aware of the increasing pressure households are facing and that water companies to continue to promote support for those who are struggling.

Dr Claire Forbes, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at Ofwat commented on the findings: ”We know that many people are facing a tough year and this report highlights the worrying impact that money difficulties can have on mental health and wellbeing.

“It’s vital that water companies and the wider sector are alert to this and provide support and information to customers who are struggling. We will continue to monitor how customers are coping and how water companies are responding.”

The research also shows a correlation between what people predict for their financial situation over the next year, and how people feel day to day.

47% of those who expect their financial situation to get worse reported feeling worried day to day and 38% reported feeling stressed.

Only three in ten (31%) bill payers reported they are aware that water companies can provide financial support to those struggling with bills.

Conducted in March 2022, the research captures people’s experiences prior to an increase in the total cost of utility bills and other expenses in April 2022 – so these pressures will have already grown, and will continue to grow, Ofwat states.

According to the water regulator, it is therefore vital that those struggling financially are aware of any support that may be available to them. Water companies should make support they offer easy to find and easy to understand, especially those in vulnerable groups.

This research will inform Ofwat’s plans to:

  • Publish new guidelines for water companies in supporting residential customers pay their bills, access help and repay debts.
  • Develop a customer-focused licence condition to increase companies’ customer focus and incentivise the very best service for customers and,
  • Continue to collect data on people’s financial circumstances and how they are managing with their household bills.

The research was conducted by Savanta between 25 March and 1 April 2022, involving:

  • a survey of 2,306 water bill payers in England and Wales. The sample includes 1,911 respondents in England and 395 water bill payers in Wales. The data was weighted by gender, age, and region to be nationally representative.
  • A booster sample of 303 water bill payers from ethnic minority communities in England and Wales.

Cost of living – Water customers’ experiences is available on the Ofwat website.