With a rise in water prices set to hit England and Wales from April this year, the Consumer Council for Water has called on water and sewage companies to pour some of their own profits into subsidising low-income households to lessen the bite of growing bills.
The water watchdog said that more help is needed for low-income households ahead of an average 2% water bill rise later this year. The new charges were confirmed by Water UK earlier this week, with the average annual water bill set to reach £415 per household in the 2019/20 financial year.
While companies may either cut bills or increase them below inflation whilst still taking undertaking substantial investment, the price increase will nevertheless be unwelcome for struggling households: for homes in the North West, the average water bill is set to increase by £9 - a rise of 2%.
“Many customers will see their bills rise from April, largely due to inflation," said Tony Smith, Chief Executive of CCWater. "Even just a small increase has the potential to hurt the three million households who tell us they struggle to afford their water bills.
“We’d like to see companies go further by dipping into their own pockets to help customers that are already feeling the pinch," he added, with more than 500,000 low-income households already receiving subsidised water bills through customer-funded social tariffs - schemes reliant on other customers' potentially capricious willingness to fund them.
Despite this, present assistance for customers struggling to afford bills only reaches about a quarter of those who say they need help, leading CCWater to call on other companies to join the likes of United Utilities - who service seven million people across Lancashire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, and Merseyside - in contributing funds to social tariff schemes.
Advising those struggling to meet water costs, CCWater said that those who do not qualify for subsidies can cut bills by switching to a water meter, with most companies offering the chance to try a meter out for two years and switch back for free if they are worse off.
Also offering an online water meter calculator to allow customers to see if they may be better off switching, CCWater is also currently working with companies on their pricing and investment plans for 2020-2025 to ensure they deliver more for customers' money. The regulator Ofwat will make a final decision on each company’s plan in December 2019.