Water companies must help customers struggling with bills and poor mental health, Ofwat says

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Research commissioned by Ofwat has found that customers in need of financial support are more likely to have poor mental health, but those who struggle with their mental health find it much harder to ask for help with bills, creating a vicious circle that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

As part of its #ListenCareShare conversation, the water regulator has been looking at how the pandemic has impacted on customers’ well-being and mental health.

Ofwat found that around half (48%) of bill payers report their mental health has been worse over the last year.

A similar proportion (51%) believe that struggling with mental health makes it harder to ask for help with bills and some are not aware that support exists.

For those already facing challenges with their bills, that rises to two-thirds (65%).

David Black, Interim Chief Executive at Ofwat commented: “Customers who are struggling financially and have poor mental health are less inclined to seek help.

“Breaking this vicious circle is a difficult challenge to overcome, but one that can be tackled by companies working better with their customers.

“Companies can go even further to promote the services they have available to instil trust in bill payers so that issues can be identified at an earlier stage.”

According to Ofwat, the link between mental health, ability to pay and low awareness of support has become ‘a growing concern.’

Those experiencing mental health challenges find it harder to ask for help, sometimes through nervousness or embarrassment of their situation and sometimes because they are not aware that support is available.

To tackle this, water companies should be identifying the most appropriate way to communicate with their customers – using more traditional means of communication such as phone calls, in addition to alternative channels such as web chats and email where that is preferred.

According to the regulator, water companies need to take ‘an empathetic, tailored and gentle approach’ to support customers.

The research findings were taken from an online survey of 2,100 bill payers.

The survey was conducted by Panelbase between 26 March and 1 April 2021.

Data is weighted to be nationally representative for England and Wales.

Findings from this survey will continue to be released during the Listen Care Share conversation. The full set of findings will be published at the end of the campaign.

More information about the #ListenCareShare is available on the Ofwat website.