Citizens Advice (CAB) says its South East bureaux have seen a 36 per cent rise in enquiries about water and sewerage debt problems between April and June this year compared to the same period last year.
That’s a big increase in anyone’s book, reflecting the tough economic times we’re in right now.
Customer bad debt – or unpaid bills – is a big and growing problem for water companies. For Thames Water, the UK’s biggest water and sewerage company, bad debt stood at £45.1m last year, up from £39m the year before.
Covering this shortfall adds an extra £12 a year to the bills of those who do pay. And that can’t be right. But tackling this problem is not as simple as going after non-payers and demanding cash.
While it is suspected that most non-payers are ‘won’t pays’, we have to make doubly sure we don’t confuse them with genuine ‘can’t pays’.
And as the CAB’s figures suggest, there appear to be increasing numbers of people who want to pay but really can’t.
That’s why Thames Water launched the Thames Water Trust Fund at the start of this year. It’s a pot, to which £5m of company cash has been committed, which is run by independent trustees, who assess each application individually and give the appropriate help where it’s needed.
Since February this year we have helped nearly 1,000 people, giving a total of £523,000 in financial assistance.
The problem is this: we need help finding out if there are more people who need help. The last thing we want to do is add to someone’s already-difficult situation by sending them ‘red reminders’.
Not being able to pay bills can be a very upsetting and lonely experience, but in order for us to help, we need struggling customers to tell us directly, or the CAB or go direct to the Thames Water Trust Fund itself.
Customers in genuine need of help will:
- Have their bills paid completely in some cases;
- Get help spreading the cost of their bills by setting up an individual payment plan or opting for simpler payment methods like direct debit or payment card;
- Be put on the ‘Water Direct’ pay scheme, which takes payments directly from state benefits.
Customers wanting to apply for Trust Fund assistance should: contact Thames Water on 0845 9200 888, visit www.thameswater.co.uk/trustfund or seek advice from their nearest Citizens Advice Bureau.
For further advice on what to do if you’re struggling to pay your water bill, visit: http://www.thameswater.co.uk/cps/rde/xchg/corp/hs.xsl/583.htm
* With 8.5 million water and 13.6 million sewerage customers, Thames Water is the biggest company in the UK water sector.