It is understandable that the Secretary of State has written to water companies at a time when the economic downturn has affected household incomes.
We can assure the Secretary of State that water companies are in touch with their customers and are well aware of the points that he makes.
Water companies are continuing to make significant efforts to help hard-pressed customers with a wide range of measures to reduce their bills. Companies have been pressing to introduce social tariffs for many years and we were pleased that Defra issued guidance recently. As a result three companies have already introduced a social tariff and one other is soon to launch a pilot scheme. All other companies in England and Wales have either developed a tariff and are consulting with customers or are working on proposals for tariffs. Water companies also have a range of other measures in place to support customers with affordability issues. These include schemes where companies write-off parts of customers’ debt and a wide range of flexible payment plans for customers to pay amounts outstanding over longer time periods. Some companies also provide free access to debt and money advisers to help customers in arrears, they contribute to support funds through charitable trusts, and they install water meters for free to help people manage their consumption and bring bills down.
Also, around 95,000 customers in England and Wales are on the current mandated tariff Watersure – a scheme available for certain customers with water meters to have their bills capped.
On bad debt, it is expected that in Wales landlords will be mandated to provide water companies with information about their tenants, from next year. In England and Wales the cost of bad debt is around £15-20 on customers’ bills. We are pleased that the Secretary of State is writing to landlords in England to urge them to provide the information water companies require.
Overall water companies continue to fulfil their legal obligations to maintain environmental standards. They provide world class drinking water, take household wastewater efficiently, and are ensuring our rivers and beaches are cleaner than ever before.
Water companies will continue to try to strike the right balance between their obligations to maintain environmental standards and attracting the investment required to do so, while responding to the needs of customers to keep their bills as low as possible in these very difficult times.
Ofwat, the economic regulator, estimates the result of water companies’ drive for efficiencies has led to a saving of £120 on customers’ bills.