Defra urges improved access to vulnerable water tariffs

Water companies should ensure that cut price tariffs are available for all eligible customers who are struggling to pay their water bills, according to the government’s draft strategy for Ofwat.

The strategic policy statement (SPS) for water, which was published by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Tuesday (14 March), states Ofwat’s regulatory framework should ‘go further’ than it currently does to help customers on the breadline.

The document, which sets out Defra’s objective for the regulator, says that companies are expected to “provide social tariffs which reach all eligible customers and offer a meaningful discount.”

And it tells Ofwat that its framework should give companies greater incentives to share best practice about ‘significantly’ reducing bad debts.

But Defra says that keeping bills down for today’s customers must not mean scrimping on future investment in the water supply infrastructure.

Responding to the SPS, the Consumer Council for Water’s senior policy manager Andy White said that while all of the major water suppliers would have social tariffs in places from April, more could be done to reach the customers who needed to be on them.

“The big issue at the moment is that schemes are not reaching a lot of the people that they are seeking to help.”

According to the SPS, 12 per cent of customers said that they were struggling to pay their water bills in 2015-16.

It also stated that companies should be transparent about their strategies for achieving long-term resilience.

Defra says that it expects Ofwat to monitor the impact of its regulatory framework on the progress of nationally significant water supply projects, paying regard to the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission.

And it urges Ofwat to promote ‘ambitious action’ to reduce leakage and per capita consumption, including steps to encourage greater collaboration on measures such as developing new water interconnectors between regions to create a better balance between supply and demand.

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