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Providing inclusive services to customers

Water companies know that across the country, customers count on us for one of the essentials for life, day in, day out.

We are wholly committed to providing inclusive services to every community across the country – and to demonstrating that we are embedding inclusive thinking into everything that we do.

Our industry is leading the way in attaining accreditation from the British Standards Institute  under its challenging BS 18477 standard for Inclusive Service Provision. Companies can only achieve this if inclusive thinking – especially for services to customers in vulnerable circumstances – is embedded in the way a company works, from the boardroom to every customer-facing part of the workforce.

Already, eight water companies have achieved the BS 18477 Inclusive Service Provision standard – and as a sector we are going further.

All water companies in England and Wales have committed to work towards this standard – or towards the new and more comprehensive BS ISO 22458 international standard for the design and delivery of inclusive services, being launched at an event today.

We are proud of the high levels of coverage, in terms of inclusive service standards, that the water sector already has compared to other similar industries – few other sectors come close to offering anything similar. And water companies are continuing to share learning points and best practice to help each other on the journey to achieving sector-wide accreditation.

This collaborative approach has always been at the heart of how water companies work to meet their customers’ needs. They work closely with each other, consumer groups, charities and experts to share experiences, good practice, and innovative approaches to benefit all customers and communities.

And this focus on inclusive services makes a real difference on the ground. All companies provide ‘priority services’ to give additional support where it’s needed. For example, due to age, ill health, disability, mental health problems or language barriers, among others.

Already over 1 million customers are registered for priority services. These include services like a ‘knock and wait’ service for customers with mobility needs, providing priority support in the event of an interruption to supply, having secure passwords for home-visits from employees, and arranging large print or braille bills. And more customers are being registered every year.

At the forefront of change

The Affordability Review,  led by the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) on behalf of Defra and the Welsh Government, built on these strong foundations to accelerate efforts by water companies to help those most in need.

Companies have been working closely with CCW and other stakeholders on the review and to implement its recommendations. Many of these reflect existing good practice in the sector, such as customers having a wide range of choices over how and when they pay their bills.

Alongside CCW, companies are piloting the Affordability Review’s recommendations to understand how best to make sure that customers who need help get the support they need.

We expect that the large majority of the recommendations from the review will be implemented by 2025, and we are continually looking at new ways for companies to support customers.

This is more than important than ever, as almost every day the headlines remind us of the increasing pressures on household budgets. It will be tough for customers, but every single water company provides help to customers who are struggling.

Water UK, alongside our member companies, will also be working hard to ensure that innovative ideas are shared so we can continuously improve service to customers in vulnerable circumstances.

As a sector we’ll build on the helpful suggestions in CCW’s Affordability Review, and keep driving to become the country’s first industry recognised as providing a 100% inclusive service.