More than a million households across the UK are now in water poverty and struggling to pay their water bills, according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) watchdog. In addition, the watchdog claims that several million more are on the cusp of water poverty and that a minor change in financial circumstances could push them over the edge.
The CCW claims that some of the 1.7 million already classed as being in water poverty have had to go without meals to ensure they have the money to pay these bills. The watchdog now wants action taken to ensure water rates and bills are more affordable and based on a percentage of income via a single social tariff.
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Government to work with the industry
Households spending more than 5% of income after housing costs on water bills are classed as being in water poverty. There are already concerns about the number of people in this situation, with the figure set to increase. Many people, such as those on Universal Credit or older people receiving a basic pension, might find themselves struggling if action is not taken.
Andy White, a senior policy manager at CCW, said that over a quarter of a million households were receiving help paying their water bills through schemes run by the water companies themselves. However, this is a drop in the ocean, given the number of households currently or soon to be facing water poverty.
At present, help available to households struggling with their water bills is limited and depends on where people live. This is something that the CCW wants to tackle by introducing a social tariff that would see water bills calculated on a percentage of income.
The government has also said it will work with the industry to build what officials described as “stronger, better and fairer water service for those who need it most." While water companies can bring in various measures to improve affordability, new laws would have to be brought in by the government to put a standard social tariff in place across the board.
Creating a fair and simple system
The chief executive of the CCW, Emma Clancy, said it was not acceptable for people to have to skip meals to pay their water bills. She said that building a fair and simple system was vital, and social tariffs could help achieve this goal.
She said, "Many people are craving certainty in these difficult times and these proposed changes would give millions of households one less thing to worry about and greater peace of mind - whatever the future holds."
If a social tariff is introduced, there may be a couple of ways to fund it. It could end up being a taxpayer-funded scheme with money taken from the public purse. Alternatively, the money might be made available by taking a small amount from the bills of everyone in England and Wales to create a fund.