Water companies 'transform lives' for vulnerable customers

Supported customers show "significant improvements" in health, housing, employment and family relationships

The trusts and assistance schemes of three large water companies are "transforming the lives" of customers in "financially vulnerable" circumstances, a new study has found.

The study found the equivalent of £3.06 is generated for every £1 invested in schemes for customers of Severn Trent, United Utilities and Thames Water.

The trust funds are in place to help customers by assisting them with awards for "essential" household goods and fees for bankruptcy and debt relief orders. The schemes also award organisational grants to fund agencies to deliver money and debt advice services.

Research commissioned by the trustees of Severn Trent Trust Fund, United Utilities Trust Fund, Thames Water Trust Fund and Auriga Services, which administers all the funds, suggests helping customers in need not only has an "immediate impact" but also a "wider social influence" on their families, communities and society. 

With more than 13,000 customers directly supported in 2015/16 the results of the study show estimated benefits of £47 million were provided to customers.

The largest estimated benefits were seen in health outcomes for customers (£35 million), followed by housing (£7 million), employment (£3 million) and family relationships (£2 million).

Around £9 million of unpaid debt, which individuals could not afford to pay was written off. 

The survey revealed that concerns about money had a "detrimental effect" on many areas of customers' lives, but mental and physical health were thought to be particularly affected. 

The help was also shown to have a long-term impact on beneficiaries with 82 per cent of grant participants able to meet their future water charges.

Mark Abrams, chief executive of Auriga Services, said: “Every day the lives of customers are improved by the generosity of the water companies. Schemes are specially developed to support their customers who are in a period of need, for immediate and long-term help, who have no-where else to turn to for support." 

Clive Stone, chair of Severn Trent Trust Fund, added: “For 20 years the Severn Trent Trust Fund with the support of Severn Trent Water has been committed to assist individuals who are struggling to pay their water bills. This report clearly demonstrates the significant positive impact that we have and continue to make to these people’s lives.”

Linda Perham, chair of Thames Water Trust Fund, said: “The Thames Water Trust Fund is extremely pleased that this report provides significant evidence that the support we offer to vulnerable and needy customers is making a real difference to improving their financial, physical and mental wellbeing.”

Debbie Morton, chair of United Utilities Trust Fund, added: “The research undertaken to compile the report confirms the substantial benefit as a result of the donation from United Utilities to our trust.

"We have many examples of families who have been assisted each year since 2005, when the trust was established, but the holistic impact of our work on customers’ lives, is confirmed by the social return figure given in this report. What is also important to the trust is the often life changing effect our work can have, to individuals and their families at this time of financial uncertainty.”

The work for the report was undertaken by Ecorys, an international company providing research, consultancy and management services. 

It is thought to be the first time such a “comprehensive and independent” study has taken place across three of the largest water companies, who between them have more than 23 million customers.

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