How to get help paying your water bill if you're struggling due to coronavirus
HOUSEHOLDS who are struggling financially due to the coronavirus crisis can get help paying their water bills.
All water companies have support measures in place for people who struggle to pay or who are vulnerable. We explain all you need to know.
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Each water company has its own scheme to help low-income customers including social tariffs and discounts.
On top of this, companies introduced new measures earlier this year to help their customers during the pandemic and they still remain in place.
There's no cut-off date for the support, but if you're struggling to make ends meet, contact your provider as soon as possible and ask for help.
It comes as a new report by the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) has found that almost 900,000 low-income households received bill reductions worth £150million during 2019/2020 – up from 28% on the previous year.
How to save money on your water bills
IF you’re not eligible for a social tariff, here are other ways to cut your bills and keep costs down.
- If you’re struggling to pay your bill, discuss it with your water company. Some offer freebies to help you reduce the amount of water you use, such as save-a-flush devices and special showerheads
- Check what water and sewerage services you receive and claim a rebate for any you're not getting
- Check that you are paying the correct tariff
- If you aren't already on a meter, check if you can reduce your bill by having one installed free of charge. CCWater has an online water meter calculator which can help you see if you'll be better off
- If you have more people in your house than rooms, you'll probably save money by having a meter
- Read your meter regularly – it can help save you money
- Look for ways to reduce your water usage if you're on a meter, eg turning off the taps when you're brushing your teeth
Yet 3million households have said their water bills are unaffordable – a number that is likely to grow as the coronavirus crisis continues.
To make sure the help reaches more households, CCW has now set out a series of commitments to raise awareness of the support.
The pledges include ensuring that at least 60% of consumers are aware of priority services by 2025 – up from the current 42%.
Below we explain what support is on offer and how to get help.
What support is available for water bills?
Ofwat, the water services industry regulator, told The Sun it expects companies to continue doing everything they can to help their customers.
This applies to customers who've had help from the start of the pandemic, or if your circumstances have recently changed and you now need support.
Current support measures on offer include:
Help through WaterSure
The WaterSure scheme enables suppliers to cap bills for low income customers using a lot of water for health reasons or if you have a large family.
To qualify, you'll also need to receive one of the following benefits:
- Universal Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Working Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Pension Credit
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
If your household is eligible then your water bill will be capped at the average household water bill for your water company.
Social tariffs and other affordability schemes
Water companies have also boosted their social tariff schemes during the pandemic, which can reduce the bills of customers on a low income.
The schemes vary across England and Wales, but in some cases it can cut bills by more than 50%, CCW told The Sun.
You can find more information about what your supplier offers on the CCW website.
If you can't pay your bill at all, you may want to consider getting a payment holiday.
It means you don't need to pay the bill now, but you'll still be liable to pay it in future so keep in mind your balance will grow over time.
How long your payment break will last depends on your provider and individual circumstances, so you'll need to contact your supplier.
For example, United Utilities offers payment breaks of between one and three months, while Thames Water typically offers three months.
CCW said more than 80,000 customers have already benefited from payment breaks during the pandemic.
Adjusted payment plans
Water companies are also able to adjust your payment plan to help you cope with a sudden drop in household income due to coronavirus.
It could mean you'll pay less for a set period of time until you get your finances in order again.
How to contact your water provider
If you're struggling, the first thing to do is find out who your supplier is.
It will be printed on your bills, but you can also check by entering your postcode on the Water UK's website.
Once you know who your provider is, visit its website to see what support measures are available or call up customer services.
If you're getting behind on your bills or know you can't afford to pay, you should contact your provider as soon as possible.
During the first lockdown in March, water companies were banned from doing any recovery action – for example, sending reminder letters for unpaid charges.
This suspension has since been removed, in an aim to prompt struggling customers to get in touch with their provider for help.
Andy White, CCW's senior policy manager, told The Sun: "We don’t want to see a situation where households are left drowning in debt – especially when water companies have a raft of schemes that can help them stay afloat.
"If a customer receives a reminder letter about unpaid charges we’d urge them to get in touch with their water company and discuss what support they can offer them – whether that’s a payment plan or debt-write off scheme."
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