by Megan Darby

Water companies and the ­Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) have welcomed government guidance on social tariffs.

The guidance gives companies the go-ahead to design schemes to lower or cap the bills of households struggling to pay, subsidised by the rest of the customer base.

The government indicated that 1.5 per cent of the average annual household bill in England – around £5 in 2011/12 – would be a reasonable amount to expect non-eligible customers to contribute.

Andy Pymer, director of customer and retail services at Wessex Water, said: “Currently we assist around 12,000 households who struggle to pay through our affordability schemes and partnership with debt advice agencies.

“This guidance will help us expand the assistance we can offer.”

A spokesperson for South West Water said: “We are already looking at several options for a new company social tariff, but we will need to examine the practicality of each with different groups of customers to help choose a model which will work in the long term.”

Andy White, CCWater policy lead on affordability, said in the long term the watchdog would like to see government make data available to help firms target support.

· Labour backbencher Thomas Docherty this week introduced a private member’s bill to make it compulsory for water companies to provide social tariffs for low-income families. It is scheduled for a second reading in January 2013.

This article first appeared in Utility Week’s print edition of 29 June 2012.

Get Utility Week’s expert news and comment – unique and indispensible – direct to your desk. Sign up for a trial subscription here: