We all know water’s essential for literally everything. From drinking it to survive, to using it to grow food and make the products we use every day, we simply cannot survive without it.
We say that water’s precious – and it is. We need to do all we can to save as much as we can, which is why we launched our Target 100 initiative including hints and tips to help our customers use less.
We also say that water’s incredibly affordable – and it is. Just one day’s service from us – which includes the water coming out of your taps, as well as the removal of wastewater from your showers, washing machines, toilets, dishwashers and more – costs less than the price of an average takeaway cup of coffee.
But what happens if you can’t afford it? What happens if you’re one of our vulnerable customers, for who the average cost of £1.07 a day is still a struggle to find?
What we’re already doing
Well, we’re here to help. We’ve had a number of schemes and tariffs in place for a while now, to help people with their water bill.
For example, our WaterSure tariff puts a cap on your water charges if you meet the criteria, meaning no matter how much water you need to use, you’ll only pay what you can afford. It can help people in receipt of a means-tested benefit who have medical conditions that need to use more water, or if you have three or more children.
Our Essentials tariff is designed to help those on low incomes by providing a discount on future bills, if you qualify for the tariff. It means you could save anywhere from 20-90%, depending on your income.
And customers already in receipt of pension credit automatically qualify for a 20% saving on their bill.
These schemes are already helping over 116,000 customers.
Here to help
But we understand that these unprecedented times call for other measures to help give customers more reassurance in rapidly changing circumstances. And so we’ve stepped up our offer support to customers who may have not have struggled before but who are finding themselves in a difficult position now.
We’ve started by introducing payment breaks of up to three months for anyone who’s been impacted by COVID-19. Since 23rd March we’ve already offered over 1,400 payment breaks to customers in need. We’ve also moved to automated renewals for those already on one of our schemes or tariffs.
We’ve changed our policy in relation to our priority services register, which is designed to let us know which customers need just a little bit of extra support during emergencies, and can include the elderly, people with certain medical conditions or households with small children.
We’re now allowing relatives and other trusted third parties to register customers in our area on their behalf and we won’t need to speak to the customer or household with the vulnerability.
The Priority Services Register is invaluable in helping us to understand where our customers may need a little bit of extra assistance. We currently have over 20,000 customers registered, but we know a lot more would qualify and I would urge anyone who needs additional assistance to register.
We’ve also joined a UK Power Networks-led consortium to support Community Foundation Trusts and will be contributing £20,000 of funding to food banks in our area, as well as reaching out to colleagues at Age UK to see what else we can do to help their clients across our region.
Other steps we’re taking
But we’re not stopping there. We have plans in place to introduce direct communications over the next couple of weeks for all customers who pay by cash or payment – and therefore may not be able to use their usual payment points – to let them know about the help they can access if they’re struggling.
We’ll also be streamlining the application process for all of our schemes and tariffs and we will be reaching out to our most vulnerable customers, simply to check in and see if there’s anything we can do to help them through this difficult time.
Working together for long-term help
But it’s not enough to simply go for the quick fix. We know people who’ve been affected by this pandemic could be suffering the fallout for months or even years to come.
So we’re working together with colleagues across the water industry as a whole to see what we can collectively do to help people, particularly looking at what longer-term financial support might look like to those who have been impacted by this COVID-19 crisis.
The bottom line is this: if you’re struggling to pay your water bill, don’t suffer in silence.
We deal with all our customers on a case-by-case basis and are always here to talk to you about the different options that are available to help you out, whether it’s a short-term problem or a longer-term situation. Whatever the reason, visit our website or send us an email. We’re here to help.
To find out what else we're doing to support and reassure our customers during this challenging time, visit our dedicated webpage.
Rachel Ryan-Crisp, Vulnerability Lead