WATER companies in England and Wales have stepped up efforts to help customers who have lost their jobs or had their incomes cut during the coronavirus crisis as MPs appeal to Boris Johnson to ensure nobody will have their water supply cut off.
The companies are encouraging households suffering from immediate or short-term issues with paying their bills to get in contact so that they can receive help.
Christine McGourty, Water UK Chief Executive, commented on the announcement: “We know that it’s an extremely difficult time for everyone at the moment, and the last thing we’d want is for anyone to worry about how they’ll pay their water bill.
“If you’re struggling to pay your bill, or you’re worried you might struggle in the future, please approach your water company for help.
“There are lots of ways that they can support you, and all you need to do is reach out and get in touch with them.
“If you or any of your family or friends need a little extra help due to particular health issues, please make sure you’re signed up to your local water company’s Priority Services Register.”
All water companies have measures in place for people who struggle to pay their water and wastewater services.
During the current crisis, companies are reaching out to their household customers to encourage them or people they know to take advantage of the assistance available.
In summary the companies are:
- Using the full range of their schemes to help customers who are struggling to pay their bills in these difficult circumstances
- Encouraging customers who are struggling financially to go to their local water company’s website to find out about the help available to them
- Actively offering payment breaks or payment holidays for anyone in financial difficulties as a result of Covid-19
- Adjusting payment plans urgently to help with sudden changes in household finances
- Simplifying the processes for customers to get extra assistance, making it as easy as possible for customers to get the help they need
- Helping customers get advice on benefits and managing debts, particularly for customers who have not been in financial difficulties before
- Stopping new court applications on unpaid bills during the current restrictions, and stopping any enforcement visits
The announcement comes at a time when MPs have asked the Prime Minister to guarantee nobody will have their water supply cut off because of the coronavirus crisis.
They say that instructions to stay at home whenever possible, and to was hands more often than normal, will lead to people using far more water than usual.
Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill and Birmingham Hall Green MP Tahir Ali are among those who wrote to Mr Johnson to say: “This is occurring at a time when many are feeling the economic impact of social distancing measures, reduced hours, inadequate sick pay or unemployment.
“We are especially concerned for those whose water is metered, many of whom will see a large increase in their bills at a time when they can least afford it.”
The MPs are asking the PM to take action to ensure that those affected are able to access clean water, and make three specific requests of Mr Johnson:
- A ban on all water disconnections for the duration of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
- A water bill holiday for all those who need it for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.
- Water bills for this period to be based on the equivalent months of the previous year, to account for the increased water usage during the crisis.
The letter said: “In order to slow the spread of the virus, people are making a concerted effort to follow public health advice to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission and to manage their health.
“This includes washing hands more frequently, cleaning surfaces regularly, and drinking more water. This inevitably means people are using more water than usual.
“In addition, many people are now working from home, have been made unemployed, or had their work suspended. This means that the average water usage per household is almost certain to rise.”
The letter was signed by a total of 53 MPs, including City of Durham MP Mary Foy and Coventry MP Zarah Sultana.
In addition, water companies are seeking out customers who may have trouble paying due to being unable to leave their house.
Alternative payment methods as well as additional support are being made available for customers in this situation.
Each water company has its own scheme to help customers who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances – schemes such as social tariffs and discounts, and payment breaks.
To help the public keep themselves, their families and their communities protected from the spread of Covid-19 water companies, and their partners, will stop all collections visits.
Instead, they will use other channels to contact customers.
Tony Smith, Chief Executive of water consumer group CCW, added: “We’re really pleased that water companies are showing a willingness to be flexible at a time when the impact of coronavirus will be putting an enormous strain on some households’ finances.
“It’s really important that customers who are struggling in any way don’t wait to be asked and actively reach out for support, whether that’s help paying a bill or getting other practical assistance.”
The water industry already helps 900,000 customers to pay their bills and has a commitment to increase this to 1.5 million by 2025.
Working with consumer bodies and others, over the next few days and weeks all water companies in England and Wales will actively publicise the schemes they have as well as the charitable and other help available to those who may be struggling.
This includes the nationwide scheme to help customers on benefits who need large amounts of water.
A Water UK spokesperson said: “We will keep customers fully informed of any further updates to the help available during this unprecedented time.
“Handwashing and the reliable provision of clean, safe water is critical to the management of the Covid-19 outbreak, and the water industry is working together as a sector to put in place every possible measure to protect our core functions.
“Consumers can be confident that they will continue to get clean, safe, and reliable water supplies.”