Households are more likely to pay bills by credit card than ask for help
A third of customers are struggling to pay household bills but are reluctant to ask for help, according to Ofwat.
The water regulator found that customers are more than three times as likely to pay essential bills by credit card – and so go into debt – than ask for help.
The Ofwat research, commissioned as part of its #ListenCareShare campaign, found that more than half (51%) of customers with children aged 11 or under were struggling to pay bills. Four in 10 customers (41%) said they were worried about money over the next six months.
Ofwat described it as ‘concerning’ that only 15% of water customers were aware of water companies providing financial support during the pandemic. Just 3% of bill payers reported they had received any form of financial support for water during the coronavirus crisis.
The regulator said the research highlighted the increased need for water companies to be more proactive in increasing awareness of the financial support available to customers so those most in need can get help.
David Black, interim chief executive at Ofwat, said: “Behind the statistics lies the challenging reality being faced by so many customers today. The stories we have heard through #ListenCareShare have reminded us that the financial impact of this pandemic continues to bite and we are beginning to gain a clearer picture on what this means and how this feels for customers.
“Customers are making difficult decisions, with some turning to credit cards to cover their bills. Water companies need to be active in seeking out and providing help to those who need it the most, especially during these unprecedented times.”
Last month a report by the Consumer Council for Water found that five out of six households who cannot pay their bills are not receiving the help they need, despite a significant rise in support schemes from water companies. It blamed this on an effective postcode lottery, where different schemes have significant variations in both the funding of the scheme and the eligibility criteria for help.