Ofwat has urged water companies to do more to help customers who are struggling to pay their bills, as the amount of outstanding unpaid revenue reaches £2.2 billion.

New research by the regulator shows the number of customers at risk of struggling to pay their water bill in England and Wales has remained the same since 2010. However, in the same time there has been a big increase in unpaid bills.

The cost associated with unpaid bills is around £21 a year for every household, up from £17 in 2009/10.

This rise in debt comes despite below-inflation rises in average bills, and Ofwat’s latest price review will result in a further 5 per cent fall, in real terms, by 2020.

Ofwat said that although some companies have made progress in establishing more support for vulnerable customers and awareness of support is generally rising, most have not achieved their target to more than double their number of social tariffs to 1.8 million by 2020.

Ofwat chief executive Cathryn Ross said: “Some companies need to get better at collecting unpaid bills from those customers who can pay but don’t. Yet this report is clear that many households are feeling the squeeze and need support.

“While some companies are improving how they respond to these customers, others have to get better at identifying those at risk and helping those who are genuinely struggling.”

Consumer Council for Water senior policy manager Andy White said there is now more assistance available “than ever before”, but research shows awareness of assistance schemes remains “far too low” and a major obstacle to ensuring all customers who need help get access to it.

“That’s why we’re continuing to challenge and work with companies to find ways to boost awareness,” he added. “We’re making good progress but there is still a long way to go, as Ofwat’s research illustrates.”

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