Three million households in England and Wales struggle to afford their water bills, with some sacrificing other essentials like heating in order to keep up payments, according to a report.
Almost 700,000 financially vulnerable customers now receive reductions on their water bills under schemes operated by utility firms and subsidised by other consumers.
The number of people receiving a discount has risen 28 per cent this year but that’s still not enough according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater). The watchdog found that one in eight households say their bills are unaffordable.
Water companies grant discounts of between £19 and £271 but assistance varies widely across the country and CCWater’s figures suggest the schemes are helping less than half of those who need them.
CCWater’s senior policy manager Andy White said: “Many customers still suffer in silence and sacrifice other essentials like food and heating in order to pay their water bill.
“No one should ever have to make that choice.
“Companies have the power to help many more struggling households by matching the generosity already being shown by other customers who are subsidising social tariffs.”
Just three companies, Welsh Water, Yorkshire Water and United Utilities, currently channel some profits into social tariffs to help financially vulnerable customers, despite calls from CCWater for other suppliers to do the same.
The overall percentage of households on priority services registers for additional support remains “a long way short” of reaching Ofwat’s 7 per cent target by 2025, the report found.
The performance of water companies and the affordability of bills will be under the spotlight as parties begin campaigning for the upcoming general election. Labour has pledged to renationalise water suppliers among other companies, arguing they can be run better in public ownership. The industry has pushed back strongly against the plans.
Figures compiled by the GMB union in June revealed that chief executives of England’s nine privatised water companies pocketed more than £70m between them in salary, bonuses, pensions and other benefits between 2013 and 2018.
Responding to CCWater’s report, a spokesperson for the industry’s trade body, said ensuring water bills were affordable was a priority for water companies.
They said: “Bills have remained pretty much the same since 1994 in real terms, and by 2025 there will have been a decade of real terms reductions in bills, which currently average around £1 a day.
“Almost 700,000 vulnerable customers are currently receiving help to pay their bills from their supplier, up 28 per cent, but we have plans to go even further, with companies planning to help 1.4 million customers by 2025.
“In addition, through our public interest commitment, water companies will make bills affordable for all households with water and sewerage bills which are more than 5 per cent of their disposable income by 2030, as well as developing a strategy to end water poverty.”