THE largest rise in the average household water and sewerage bill for almost 20 years could prove a tipping point for the one in five customers already struggling to pay.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW), the independent voice of water consumers, has issued the warning in response to Water UK confirming the average household bill in England and Wales will rise by about £31 to £448 from April. The 7.5 per cent average increase – the largest since 2005-06 – doesn’t tell the full story though.
Regional variations and other individual factors such as whether a customer is metered and how much water they use means some households could face rises significantly above – or below – the average.
Although water companies are helping more than a million households through their own social tariff schemes, CCW says the ‘postcode lottery’ nature of this support means many customers who cannot afford their bill slip through the net.
CCW has repeated its call for the UK Government to deliver on its promise to consult on a new water affordability scheme that would provide fair and consistent support for households based on need, not where they live.
Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said: “Water is essential for all of us so no-one should be worried about being able to afford their bill. These increases will bring more uncertainty to struggling households at a time when they can’t be certain they will get the help they need.”
“Low-income households need immediate relief and the long-term security of knowing their water bill will be affordable. It’s not fair that struggling households face a postcode lottery when it comes to getting help with their bill – that’s why we urgently need a new water affordability scheme that provides consistent support based on people’s needs.”
Creating a new affordability scheme – or single social tariff – to lift more than a million households out of water poverty across England and Wales was the central recommendation of CCW’s independent review of water affordability, which was commissioned by the UK and Welsh governments. The review found that existing water company support still left five out of six customers who cannot afford their water bill without the help they need.
The UK Government publicly committed last August to consult on a new water affordability scheme but this has yet to materialise. The current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently stated she is not minded to pursue a new single scheme.
Jess Cook, water poverty lead at National Energy Action (NEA), said: “Social tariffs are essential for low-income households. Discounted water bills for those struggling to pay can stop the most vulnerable from cutting back or running up debt when they can ill afford to do so. But the current postcode lottery means where you live affects what you pay and what support you receive, and the Secretary of State, Thérèse Coffey, has suggested that fixing this is not one of her top priorities. With water bills rising 7.5 per cent on average during this cost-of-living crisis, it’s more vital than ever that access to a social tariff should be made fairer, more consistent, and accessible to everyone who needs it, regardless of where they live.”
There are some ways struggling households can reduce their bills or access support and CCW has joined forces with Water UK in trying to raise awareness of this help through its Support on Tap campaign.
CCW’s top three ways to save or seek support with water bills
· Trial a water meter – typical saving £200. If you’re among the 40 per cent of households who still not do not have a meter, it’s worth checking if you might be better off with one. Not everyone will save with a meter but water companies will give you two years to trial one and switch back if you’re unhappy.
· Take the heat out of bills by saving water and energy – savings vary. Much of the water we use in the home comes from the hot tap. That means if you have a water meter you can double up on water and energy savings too. If every person in a family of four halved their daily shower time from 10 minutes to 5 minutes they could save more than £700 a year (water and energy combined).
· Reduce your bills with a low-income social tariff – typical saving £150. All water companies offer reduced tariffs to low-income customers. Eligibility and the level of support varies from company to company.
Water customers can learn more about the full range of support on offer by visiting www.ccwater.org.uk