Water bill rise sparks call for greater support for vulnerable

The average household water and sewerage bill in England and Wales for 2019-20 is set to rise by 2 per cent for a second year.

Bills will be £415 on average – a below inflation rise of £8 compared with the figure for last year, Water UK confirmed today (6 February).

The trade body said water companies in England and Wales will invest more than £8 billion this year – the investment comes in the fifth year of a £44 billion spending commitment from 2015 to 2020.

The investment is expected to cut 370 million litres a day leaking from pipes, ensure nearly 5,000 fewer properties will be flooded with sewer water and 50 beaches are cleaner.

Water UK said the change to average bills was within the context of an overall cut of 5 per cent in real terms between 2015 and 2020 as part of five-year plans confirmed by Ofwat in 2014.

What customers end up paying will vary depending on their supplier and individual circumstances.

The average bill will change by less than inflation for the sixth year in a row and by 2025 there will have been over a decide of falling bills, Water UK suggested.

Water companies are also on track to deliver on a five-year commitment to provide financial support to an additional one million people (459,000 households) by 2020, with all companies having social tariffs in place to provide reduced water bills for customers who struggle to pay.

Responding to today’s announcement the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has urged the industry to increase its funding of financial assistance for low-income customers.

CCWater acknowledged that in “most cases” companies will either cut bills or increase them below inflation while still providing “substantial investment” in the service they provide to customers.

However, it argued any increase will still be “unwelcome” for struggling households faced with “other rising living costs”.

Michael Roberts, chief executive of Water UK, said: “We’re on course to see extra investment and a decade of falling bills, showing a water industry that is dynamic and passionate about delivering real benefits for customers, the environment and the country as a whole.

“The water industry’s record has been good over the past 30 years – cutting leakage, keeping bills affordable, improving water quality, and cleaning up rivers – but it’s clear that water companies have higher ambitions for the future of water with customers right at the heart of everything that they do.”

Tony Smith, chief executive of CCWater, added: “Many customers will see their bills rise from April, largely due to inflation. Even just a small increase has the potential to hurt the three million households who tell us they struggle to afford their water bills.

“We’d like to see companies go further by dipping into their own pockets to help customers that are already feeling the pinch.”

More than half a million low-income households are already receiving subsidised water bills through customer-funded social tariffs.

CCWater said the growth and impact of these schemes “remains heavily constrained” by other customers’ willingness to fund them.

At present assistance for customers struggling to afford bills only reaches about a quarter of those who say they need help, according to CCWater.

The water watchdog has called on the rest of the industry to follow the example of United Utilities, Welsh Water and Yorkshire Water by contributing some of their own cash to these social tariff schemes.

Ofwat is currently working with companies on their pricing and investment plans for 2020-2025. In its initial assessment of the proposals published on 31 January the regulator said Severn Trent, South West Water and United Utilities submitted plans that “set a new standard for the sector”.

Ofwat will make a final decision on each company’s plan in December 2019.

1 Comment

  1. Cristen Foye on 11th March 2019 at 7:03 am

    Even just a small increase has the potential to hurt the three million households who tell us they struggle to afford their water bills?

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