The government faces calls to end the “postcode lottery” for water poverty in England and Wales by creating a social tariff to protect millions of families who struggle to pay for their water bills.
Government officials are expected to review a plan put forward by the water industry’s consumer watchdog that calls for a social water tariff, which would save hard-pressed households from paying more than 5% of their income on water bills.
Around 1.5 million homes are in water poverty, and another 3 million are on the verge of it, but in around five out of six households, struggling billpayers are not able to access financial help because of confusion over the “patchwork of support” offered by different regional water suppliers.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) said billpayers often face different eligibility criteria to apply for help in reducing their water consumption or clearing their debt depending on where they live. Some may find their regional scheme has insufficient funds, it added.
The council has urged the government to call time on the postcode lottery by putting in place a single social water tariff for England and Wales to “end the indignity of people skipping meals or other essentials to pay their water bill”.
Emma Clancy, the council’s chief executive, said ministers had “a golden opportunity to create a simpler and fairer system”, which could reduce annual water bills for low-income families by up to £190 a year.
The proposal is one of a string of measures put forward by the CCW to help tackle water poverty, which could also call on water suppliers to write off monthly charges while billpayers are waiting for their first payment of universal credit, and to offer long-term bill incentives for low-income households with relatively low water use to switch to a water meter.
“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,” she said.
Rebecca Pow, an environment minister, said the government would consider the “practical recommendations to deliver on our levelling up agenda” in the CCW report by “exploring new ways of doing things that could help the most vulnerable customers”.
“I look forward to considering these further and working with the sector to build a stronger, better and fairer water service for those who need it most,” she added.