Despite a rise in support schemes, five out of six water customers who cannot afford their water bill are not receiving the help needed.
This statistic was published as part of research by the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), which also found about 1.5 million customers in England and Wales are currently living in water poverty.
Defined by the watchdog as those spending more than 5% of their income after housing costs on water bills, the report says at least three million more households are “on the cusp” of slipping into water poverty.
These findings come as part of proposals set out by the CCW to end what it describes as the “postcode lottery of support” for those who are unable to afford their water bill. The measures would make it easier for consumers to access help from their water company, which ranges from making payments and clearing debt to reducing their water consumption.
Emma Clancy, chief executive of the CCW, believes there’s a “golden opportunity to create a simpler and fairer system” of support.
She added: “Many people are craving certainty in these difficult times and these proposed changes would give millions of households one less thing to worry about and greater peace of mind – whatever the future holds.”
One of the key recommendations set out by the CCW to overcome this would be the creation of a single social tariff for England and Wales. This would ensure no-one ever has to spend, after housing costs, more than 5% of their income on water bills. The scheme, which could be funded through public expenditure or a customer cross-subsidy, would see those that were eligible have an average bill reduction of £190.
It also recommends water companies take steps to develop a better understanding of their customers’ needs and raise awareness of the support they can offer. In addition to this, businesses would be asked to write-off water charges while social tariff applicants are waiting for their first payment of Universal Credit, as well as offering long-term bill incentives for low-income households that have relatively low water use to switch to a water meter.
UK government environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “The review sets out practical recommendations to deliver on our levelling up agenda, exploring new ways of doing things that could help the most vulnerable customers. I look forward to considering these further and working with the sector to build a stronger, better and fairer water service for those who need it most.”
Welcoming the CCW’s review, water industry regulator Ofwat’s senior director Emma Kelso said: “There is lots in these ambitions we can all agree with, including greater support for customers in vulnerable circumstances and embedding a customer focus in water companies’ licence to operate, which is something we are already looking at.”
The CCW’s proposals have led to an independent review into the affordability of water on behalf of the UK and Welsh governments.