Watchdog bills call to water firms

An increasing number of consumers are struggling to pay their water bills despite companies offering more practical and financial help, according to a watchdog.

The Consumer Council for Water is urging utility companies to make it a priority to ensure customers know help is available with their bills
The Consumer Council for Water is urging utility companies to make it a priority to ensure customers know help is available with their bills

The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) called on utility firms to make it a priority to ensure customers know help is available after finding that one in five said their bill was not affordable - up from one in eight last year.

A report by the CCW found that customers "often don't expect to be able to receive help from their water company" and "suffered in silence" rather than seek assistance.

It found a low awareness of water company assistance funds and schemes offering reduced charges for some customers in certain circumstances, such as WaterSure and Welsh Water Assist.

CCW said it would use the findings to help the industry better support those in debt or struggling to pay their bill.

CCW senior policy manager Andy White said: "One in five water customers now tell us their water bill is not affordable compared to one in eight last year.

"Customers who are struggling to pay should get in touch with their water company as soon as possible. CCW has helped ensure the number of customers signing up for assistance has increased, but it's still not enough.

"The water industry should make it a priority to ensure customers know this help is available, and how to get it."

Last month regulator Ofwat announced that household water and sewerage bills are set to be about 5% lower on average in real terms over the next five years.

The figure, which excludes inflation, is based on Ofwat's draft determination on price controls for all 18 water companies in England and Wales between 2015 and 2020.

A final decision on bills will be made in December.