Water bills: what happens when you can’t pay
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East Anglia's main water supplier Anglian Water is committed to maintaining supplies across the region. But what happens when someone is struggling to pay the bill?
A 74-year-old man is living in a caravan after a serious flood has forced him out of his house. He has contacted his water supplier to complain that he is being over-charged. A back story emerges...
He is not being over-charged, but it becomes clear that he is struggling to pay the bill.
'We managed to get him on to our Lite 80 tariff, which takes off 80pc of the annual bill,' explains Fay Wright, a member of Anglian Water's Extra Care team.
'People who are eligible for the tariff – those who are in temporary financial difficulty with little disposable income – are offered a discount on their water bill determined according to individual circumstances and assessed by the Citizens Advice Bureau.
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'We don't offer help to everyone, though,' she adds. 'It's about making the water affordable for people who genuinely need help.'
Anglian Water supplies more than one billion litres of water every day to 2.5 million households and more than 120,000 businesses in the region, so examples of genuine hardship do occur regularly. That's why every year Anglian Water commits £1million to help vulnerable customers facing financial hardship.
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Help paying bills
In the company's outline plan for 2020-25, it states: 'Our vision for 2025 is one where our customers can rely on targeted and effective support when they need it.
'A key part of our strategy is to get better at identifying when customers are in vulnerable circumstances and stepping in to help in the most effective way, suited to particular situations.'
Plans for supporting vulnerable customers include:
• Making the most of data to help identify customers in vulnerable circumstances.
• Building partnerships with agencies (such as the Citizens Advice Bureau) to help identify and target support for customers in vulnerable circumstances.
• Promoting the support on offer to customers, including through partnerships.
• Providing targeted and effective support which is flexible to the needs of the individual and not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Fay, who has a background in the banking sector, explains: 'We do not want to set people up to fail. We want to make sure their payments are suitable to their situation.
'We also have an assistance fund to help people get back on track. But we're not just clearing debts; we make sure the customer can pay for a minimum of six months to demonstrate the arrangement is going to be sustainable.'
One of the company's favoured options for customers in challenging circumstances is water meter installation – with the incentive that a meter can save up to £100 a year on average bills. Customers on a meter have a choice of tariffs depending on their eligibility.
Fay takes up the story: 'If you're using a lot of water and you need help managing your water bill, there are three ways that we can help.
'A WaterSure account keeps payments the same no matter how much water you use. There's a fixed, higher standing charge, but no charge for the volume of water used.
'The AquaCare Plus option ensures less variation in bills because most of the bill is made up by the fixed standing charge.
'Then there's the Lite tariff, which our customer in the caravan switched to. In fact, his bill was quite small, but because he was obviously struggling to pay the bill, and because of his age, we were able to make sure he was a priority.'
Anglian Water also has a priority service aimed at customers who need special care such as nursing mothers, kidney patients with a dialysis machine in the home, customers who have sight or hearing difficulties, the frail elderly and people registered as disabled.
The company's forward plan pledges: 'We are passionate about ensuring that future bills remain affordable for all, and about providing a range of support for customers who may be affected by changing circumstances that make them vulnerable in different ways.
'Our actions here include identifying and supporting customers who are struggling to pay and taking new approaches to help people avoid getting into debt difficulties.'
Now in a series of consultations and via online interaction, Anglian Water is seeking customers' response to its aim to maintain water supply to users – including those in challenging situations.
Customers are being asked the question: 'Do you agree with our overall approach to supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances?' They can answer at any time up to Wednesday, May 9 by visiting http://www.h2oletsgo.com
The Anglian Water Assistance Fund (AWAF) has been set up to support customers in financial hardship.
The fund is administered by a charitable trust on behalf of Anglian Water. Its aims are:-
• To administer a grants programme aimed at reducing water and sewerage debt for customers experiencing poverty and hardship throughout the region.
• To make awards that will help people recover from the burden of debt and become financially more stable.
• To make a positive long-term difference to an applicant's financial situation.
The fund, which consistently receives requests which exceed its holding, will consider help with water and/or sewerage charges for customers in debt. The fund may also be able to offer solutions to arrears in domestic water and sewerage charges.
The fund prioritises help to applicants who can demonstrate evidence that a one-off award will make a difference and help the applicant towards being financially stable.
For more information, visit: www.anglianwater.co.uk/household/your-account/bills-and-payments/problems-paying/assistance.aspx