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.
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.
All water companies have measures in place for people who struggle to pay for 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
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.
Water UK Chief Executive Christine McGourty said:
“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.”
Tony Smith, Chief Executive of water consumer group CCW, said:
“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. 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.
Notes to editors:
In more detail, some of the short-term support being put in place includes:
Companies will encourage customers who are suffering from immediate or short-term affordability issues to contact them so that appropriate support can be offered based on their individual circumstances. This will be undertaken through a range of activities including bill messaging, social media and on-line portals.
Companies will continue to proactively contact customers who have not been able to pay to better understand their immediate needs. This will be done using existing communication channels such as payment reminders and texts/emails. All companies will be undertaking a review of wording and where possible use language in the form of a gentle payment prompt, recognising that these are difficult times for customers.
Companies will stop all collections visits. Companies will attempt to contact customers through other channels.
Where a company uses outsourced collection companies, they will ensure that the service provider adopts the same approach as the instructing company to ensure consistency in how customers are treated.
No customers who have identified themselves over the coming months as requiring additional support will be placed with an external agency during the support period.
Legal and Enforcement Activity
Companies will continue to follow court guidance in relation to all ongoing court activities to ensure that they comply with legal process. They will not commence new court applications during the current restrictions, and they will stop any enforcement visits.
Range of Support
Companies will actively offer a range of support to customers who are struggling financially. All companies in their dealings with customers will consider the most appropriate financial help to offer based on individual customer circumstances, this will include alternative payment arrangements, reduced instalments amounts, assessing customers for reduced bill schemes and deferring payment by offering payment breaks to help customers during the current coronavirus outbreak.
Reduce Bill Schemes
Companies will automatically renew customers already on reduced bill schemes (such as WaterSure) and as much as possible simplify the process for new applicants
Help for Cash Payers
Companies will proactively identify cash payers who may be unable to make payments due to being unable to leave their house. Companies will contact these customers to highlight alternative payment methods that are available to them at this time and encourage them to contact their water company if they need additional support.