Help for cash-strapped water customers

September 24, 2007 at 2:46 am

Ofwat, the Water Services Regulation Authority, has recently announced that the number of people getting help with their water bill had risen significantly in 2006-07. More and more customers are receiving financial assistance from the WaterSure scheme, which was introduced in 2000 by the Government. The arrangement, previously known as the Vulnerable Groups Scheme, helps metered customers on a low income to pay for their water usage by capping bills. With “water poverty” on the increase in Britain, more households are applying for help each year.

WaterSure is available to anyone in England and Wales who is responsible for three or more children under the age of 19 or has a medical condition which necessitates higher than average water consumption. To be eligible, the individual or household must be on a metered supply and must also be receiving one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income based Jobseeker’s allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Benefits
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (not families who only qualify for family element)
  • Pension Credit

A household qualifying for help under WaterSure pays the average household bill for the region, and does not have to make any contribution towards the extra water which is required by a larger family and/or a medical condition.

Over 16,000 households successfully applied for financial assistance during 2006-07, up 23% on the previous year. Ofwat also reported an increase in the number of elderly and disabled customers who sought help with water and sewerage services – up from 82,800 in 2005-06 to around 90,000 in 2006-07. The assistance for these vulnerable groups is not necessary financial – services include schemes to deter bogus callers, repositioning of meters for easier access and the provision of large-print or Braille bills and literature for customers with visual impairment.

Andrew Dunn, Director of Consumer Protection at Ofwat, was pleased with the increase in the uptake of these schemes. However, he urged the many eligible customers who are not benefiting from the schemes to get in touch with their water company. “I would encourage any customer who thinks that they may qualify for a reduced bill under the WaterSure scheme or who needs a specialised service to contact their water company. These schemes are there to help customers.

Am I eligible for the scheme?
If you think you qualify for help, contact your water company, who will be able to provide you with further details. Many providers have online application forms which can be completed and submitted via their website. You will need to provide information about benefits you receive, other members of your household, and your medical condition if you are applying on these grounds. You may also be ineligible if you use a lot of water for non-essential purposes, such as maintaining a swimming pool or using a sprinkler system in your garden. Alternatively, you can download a flowchart from the Consumer Council for Water which will help you quickly check your eligibility.

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Water companies plug their leaks

September 18, 2007 at 10:32 am

The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat), reported earlier this month that the water industry has made good progress on the issue of leakage. A study of the annual returns from the UK’s 22 water companies has also shown a 25% increase (compared to last year) in the amount of money being invested to improve infrastructure and meet customer needs and expectations.

Last year, the industry spent £4.3 billion on building and maintaining new and existing facilities. The investment seems to have paid off as, throughout England and Wales, water companies easily met the industry target for reduction in leakage, which was set at 95 megalitres per day (Ml/d); one megalitre equals one million litres.

On average, companies reduced the volume of water lost by almost 160 Ml/d. Severn Trent was the only company not to meet the target, which was set at 17 Ml/d, missing it by 8 Ml/d. The company has committed to spending an additional £45 million to improve service provision and reduce leakage in 2007-08. Significantly, the extra money will come from shareholders, rather than being generated by increased customer charges.

So, just how much water are we losing to leaks in Britain?

Ofwat’s figures for 2006-07 give a UK leakage figure of 3,420 Ml/d (down from 3,575 Ml/d in 2005-06). Average daily water consumption in the UK is around 135 litres – so the water lost to leakage every day could supply 25 million of us with our daily water needs! If domestic consumers stuck to 50 litres per person per day (the minimum volume recommended by the World Health Organisation) plugging the leaks would save enough water to supply the entire UK population!

Why isn’t more being done?

Ofwat is working hard to tackle leakage, and sets each company a target based on the economic benefits of fixing leaks. Water is cheap, while fixing leaks can be a slow and expensive business. If targets were set too high, it would be cheaper for water companies to simply pump more water into the system rather than spend money on replacing and repairing pipes. But the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater), a body which represents the interests of the consumer, believes water companies should be making greater efforts to fix their leaks. CCWater particularly wants Ofwat to set new leakage standards for companies operating in drought-prone areas of the UK, penalising them if they fail to reach the targets.

Richard Sturt, Chairman of CCWater Southern, said: “Companies in drought hit areas must be seen to give priority to leakage reduction, particularly when they are asking their customers to conserve supplies.”

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