WaterSure offers a helping hand with metered water bills

Posted: Monday 24th September 2007

The number of households receiving help with water and sewerage bills increased by 23% over the last year, from 13,200 to more than 16,000, but thousands of families are still paying more than they have to because they have not applied for WaterSure.

The vulnerable groups scheme, now called WaterSure, allows certain customers in England and Wales on a metered water charge to use extra water without worrying about receiving a high bill.

To be eligible, customers must have a water meter and be receiving income-related benefits. They must also have either three or more children under 19 at home or a medical condition that requires extra water. Customers who meet these criteria can have their water bill capped at the amount of the average household bill for their water company.

The Department for Food, Rural Affairs and the Environment (Defra) estimates that around 70,000 families with three or more children could be eligible. It is not known how many customers could apply on medical grounds.

The Consumer Council for Water helped to develop an easy-to-complete application form that will be used by all water companies. The companies will all use the name ‘WaterSure’ for this service.

Dame Yve Buckland, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water, says: “We worked closely with water companies, the Government and other interested parties to ensure that it is now easier than ever to apply for the WaterSure scheme. We want water companies to actively promote it so that more customers can benefit from reduced water and sewerage bills and the freedom to use water for essential purposes without undue worry or concern.”

The Consumer Council for Water’s Annual Tracking Survey last year found that just 12% of water and sewerage customers are aware of the help available to vulnerable customers.

Dame Yve continues: “However, while we welcome the WaterSure scheme, it helps only a small group of vulnerable customers. We want help extended to more customers who have trouble affording water bills. We are acutely aware that those eligible are still only a narrow subset of the many thousands of people struggling to pay rising water charges alongside their other bills.

“This is still a drop in the ocean given that last year debt in the water industry amounted to £814 million (£400 million outstanding for more than 12 months). We continue to press the Government to look at ways in which a safety net could be offered to those genuinely in need through the tax and benefits system, through changes in the way we pay for water and through third party deduction schemes, to help those struggling with debt manage their bills better.

“This will be particularly important given that there is now agreement to the expansion of compulsory water metering in areas where supply water is scarce. We believe that the expansion of metering will create a knock-on problem for many people on low incomes with no credible support system in place.”

Customers can check their eligibility for the scheme by following the simple flow chart on the Consumer Council for Water’s website, www.ccwater.org.uk. Alternatively they can ask their water company for more information.

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