COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns have hit people’s finances hard across the UK. Increased time at home for adults and children alike brought changes in everyday behaviour. Consumption of water rose overnight when the first national lockdown was announced at the end of March 2020 and we were all asked to increase our personal hygiene habits whilst at the same time, the country was treated to a lengthy heat wave.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that the pandemic resulted in increases in household water consumption by circa 15-20%. Unfortunately this increase coincided with millions of people’s finances being hit hard – and there’s a strong correlation between the likelihood of someone being furloughed or losing their job and them having previously been on a low-income.
A joint WaterWise and NEA paper published in November 2020 states that there had been: over 3.2 million claims for Universal Credit1 ; over 9.6 million people furloughed as part of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme2 ; over 1.9 million requests for mortgage payment holidays, and a further 1.7 million requests for payment breaks on credit cards and loans3.
By early August 2020, over 70,000 payment breaks had been granted by the 17 water companies in England and Wales. While a payment holiday may help a customer to manage a temporary change in their financial circumstances, they are not the best support option for a longer-term financial shock.
That’s why it’s important for water companies in England to proactively identify vulnerable customers that may be eligible for the government’s WaterSure scheme*.
Although many households benefit from having a water meter, some struggle to pay metered water bills because they need to use large amounts of water. Certain metered household customers are protected from paying large water bills under the government’s WaterSure scheme.
If a household is eligible, then its water bill is capped at the average household water bill for its water company. In the cases of Wessex Water and Bristol Water, the companies will cap the bill at the average metered bill level, which is lower.
Protecting vulnerable customers
Financial support for the most vulnerable must be a priority for water companies and the industry going forward. According to Ofwat, water companies must provide a range of support to customers, some aimed at customers in vulnerable circumstances, both long-term and short-term, and some for all customers at any time.
Ofwat expects water companies to:
- Consider schemes such as payment holidays and payment matching.
- Continue to help customers pay their bills through WaterSure, social tariffs and other affordability schemes.
- Continue to keep in close contact with their customers to make sure their customers are aware that such schemes are available in the event that someone is struggling to pay their bills.
Identifying vulnerable customers
Working closely with other data providers specializing in vulnerable data, Advizzo is perfectly positioned to help water companies to identify, target and engage their vulnerable customers. At the heart of our solutions is data. We will use all data available to us, including data related to where customers live, whether they rent their accommodation, as well as their account information, to identify customers that are currently in debt or in danger of becoming in debt.
The more data that’s available to us, the more information we can glean. Sending a personalised survey to potentially vulnerable customers is a very proactive step in supporting customers. We can tailor customer surveys specifically to ascertain who is vulnerable.
Once we’ve identified a water company’s vulnerable customers, we can then develop a bespoke engagement programme to reach out to those customers – offering them advice on how to reduce their consumption and therefore their bill, and informing them of appropriate tariffs and schemes that might be applicable to support/help them.
For more information on how we can help support vulnerable customers read our blog How Advizzo provides proactive support for vulnerable customers. Alternatively, get in touch to find out more.
*Whilst Watersure only applies to companies operating wholly or mainly in England, the two companies operating in Wales have introduced equivalent tariffs on a voluntary basis.