Renewed urgency needed to bolster financial support for struggling water customers
Efforts to end the postcode lottery of support for households struggling to afford their water bill must succeed amid growing pressure on customers’ finances.
CCW has called for renewed urgency in putting in place a new universal water affordability scheme to provide fair, consistent and sustainable financial help for the 1.5 million households across England and Wales living in water poverty.
It comes as the water consumer watchdog’s annual Water Matters report reveals a steep rise among the unemployed, students and disabled customers, who say their water bill is unaffordable.
Just over a third of bill payers who took part in the survey also said their finances had got worse during the past year, as the cost of living crisis continues to deepen and with the prospect of further inflation-busting energy bill rises looming this autumn.
CCW has been working with the water sector as part of its independent review of water affordability to bring immediate relief to struggling households through a raft of changes. These include making it easier for customers to access help and providing more flexible payment options.
However, CCW continues to campaign for the introduction of a new single social tariff scheme that would provide fair and consistent support for low-income households – and believes the changes cannot come quick enough. The universal scheme would replace the patchwork of individual water company social tariffs, which remain hampered by funding constraints and regional variations in eligibility criteria.
Dr Mike Keil, Senior Director at CCW – the voice for water consumers, said:
Many people are feeling the pressure on their budgets from soaring costs but our report suggests it is leaving some of the most vulnerable households in a perilous position. We don’t want something as essential as water adding to people’s worries, which is why it’s vital the sector and ministers accelerate efforts to introduce a new water affordability scheme that will provide meaningful and sustainable support to those that need it most.
The UK and Welsh governments established a development group to explore the proposal of a new water affordability scheme. New legislation would be needed to implement the changes but CCW wants to see the scheme launched no later than April 2025.
CCW’s latest survey findings show about 1 in 10 households currently consider their water bill to be unaffordable. That rises to around 1 in 5 among the unemployed, students and households with a disabled occupant.
The report also shines a light on the wider views of customers about the services they receive from their water company.
It found that overall satisfaction with water services remains high at 91 per cent but there was a significant fall in the number of people satisfied with their sewerage service – dropping from 85 per cent to 78 per cent. The fall comes against the backdrop of increased scrutiny of the water industry’s use of storm overflows and their impact on river water quality.
Fewer customers also felt what they were being charged by their water company was fair – slipping from 69 per cent to 62 per cent. This could be a reflection of the wider financial pressures customers are experiencing due to the cost of living crisis.
Customers struggling to afford their water bill can explore the range of help on offer by visiting CCW’s financial support advice hub