Water companies adopt a broad-brush approach to dealing with unpaid customer debts, according to the industry’s representative body Water UK.
The organisation issued its response to an open letter to water company CEOs from Parliament earlier this month, and stressed that suppliers are already doing what they can to assist cash-strapped customers during a turbulent economic cycle.
In particular, there are several solutions to unpaid customer debts, as outlined by Water UK:
- Schemes to write off part of a customer’s debt to make the final bill more affordable;
- Flexible payment plans for customers who can pay in full, but need longer;
- Free access to debt advisors for customers in arrears with some suppliers;
- Free installation of water meters to help customers manage their usage;
- Contributions to charitable trusts set up to assist those in financial hardship.
There are further indirect measures in place within the industry, such as the relatively recent emergence of social tariffs, based on newly issued Defra guidance, and more pilot schemes in the pipeline for this.
According to Water UK, every supplier in England and Wales has either already launched a social tariff or pilot, or is working on proposals and customer consultations to do so.
Further customers are being given peace of mind by having their bills capped as part of the Watersure mandated tariff, with nearly 100,000 households currently on this tariff.
All of this action is helping to prevent passing the cost of unpaid ‘bad debt’ on to other customers through increases to their bills.
Water UK states: “In England and Wales, the cost of bad debt is around £15-20 on customers’ bills. We are pleased that the Secretary of State is writing to landlords in England to urge them to provide the information water companies require.”
This last measure should mean water companies are provided with information about tenants in rental properties, helping to drive the risk of unpaid bills down even further.
While some of these measures are designed to protect consumers and others are aimed at reducing non-payment to suppliers, all help to raise confidence that bills will be both affordable, and paid on time – lowering the cost of bad debt to conscientious customers nationwide.