Consumer group CCW has called on the water sector to raise awareness of financial support schemes after a survey showed a lack of awareness particularly among ethnic minority groups and young people of available assistance with bills.
CCW’s latest Water Matters survey for 2019 revealed around one third of billpayers were unaware of the financial support available to people struggling to pay water bills and were unlikely to seek support.
The annual poll found overall satisfaction with water and sewerage services rose by 1 percentage point when compared with 2018 to 91 per cent and 86 per cent respectively.
Around two thirds (66 per cent) agreed that bills were fair – up three percentage points on the previous year – and almost four in five (78 per cent) said they were affordable. More than three quarters (76 per cent) said they feel they get value for money.
However, the survey also showed a dip in satisfaction with customer services from 83 per cent to 79 per cent.
At present, around a quarter of a million people have signed up to social tariffs, which CCW said does not come close to addressing the scale of the problem.
The consumer group said lack of awareness could put households in financial difficulty, especially those negatively impacted by coronavirus.
The survey highlighted that people under 25 and those from black-Caribbean and minority backgrounds were the least likely to reach out for help.
Despite water companies making efforts to promote the social tariff schemes available, only one in 20 respondents said they knew such support existed.
Around one in ten respondents said their water bill was unaffordable, a number that could rise for households financially affected by the coronavirus.
The pandemic has raised awareness of the priority services register and many companies have reported an increase in sign-ups. However, the CCW’s survey found that prior to outbreak awareness of the register had fallen by 42 per cent over the past six years.
Mike Keil, head of policy and research at CCW said: “Now – more than ever – households need to know their water company is on their side and there to help them if things takes a turn for the worst. Water companies have a wide range of schemes that can help customers through difficult times but they must do more to empower households with the knowledge they need to seek help.”
The survey recommended companies should engage with ethnic minority groups and consider language barriers when considering how to contact customers. CCW also advised that under 25s and over 75s are the least engaged with their water companies, so vital messaging may be missed by these demographics.