Ofwat’s latest cost of living research, published today, reveals not only that many customers are still struggling financially but also that the percentage of customers aware that financial help is available from water companies has hovered around 30% over the last year. Ofwat will continue to ensure that water companies are protecting their most financially vulnerable customers.
This third wave of cost of living research reveals that the percentage of bill payers who had ‘never’ struggled to pay a household bill in the past year has fallen from 45% in 2021 to just 25%.
The research, conducted by Savanta, also shows that:
- More than half (56%) of bill payers have struggled to pay household bills frequently over the last year.
- Women were much more likely than men to struggle with bills – 68% of women compared to 46% of men.
- Almost eight in ten (78%) of those aged under 35 reported struggling with household bills.
- Seven in ten (70%) bill payers who have a long-term illness, health problem or disability, or who live with someone who does, reported struggling to pay bill ‘sometimes’ of more often.
- Only 7% of water bill payers reported having received financial support.
Our research also shows that nearly one in four bill payers (23%) are currently struggling to pay their water bill. This is up from 20% in wave two (Oct 2022) and 15% in wave one (March 2022). Ofwat’s report also shows the impact that financial struggles can have on customers’ mental health: bill payers struggling with their household bills reported higher levels of stress, worry and depression to those not currently struggling. Only 15% of bill payers who reported struggling ‘all the time’ with household bills report having received help with their water bill.
It is the responsibility of water companies to ensure that bill payers who may be eligible for support are aware of and can access it. Crucially, this support must be clearly signposted and easily accessible to customers. 64% of those who reported struggling to pay their water bill agreed that they avoid or delay opening bills when they’re struggling with their mental health.
Ofwat is currently consulting on a new customer-focused licence condition that will require companies to provide excellent customer services for their customers. Where a company is not performing in line with the licence condition, Ofwat will have new powers to step in and take action.
Claire Forbes, Senior Director of Corporate Communications at Ofwat said:
‘Ofwat’s message is clear: water companies must continue stepping up and supporting their customers who are struggling financially. No customer should be left behind, particularly those in challenging financial circumstances. Today’s research shows that support for customers struggling financially is still not reaching those who need it the most. There has been some good progress from water companies in this area, but now is not the time for complacency: when Ofwat sees poor performance from water companies in this area we will not hesitate to act.’
Notes to Editors:
Cost of Living: Wave 3 is the third in a series of reports looking at customers’ experiences with household bills, especially water bills, and their views on value for money.
The full report is available here: Cost of Living Wave 3 report
Other research reports available here:
Our Listen, Care, Share report (July 2021) is available here: Listen Care Share: Water customers’ experiences during Covid-19. Research for this report was conducted in March 2021.
Our first report, Cost of Living, water customers’ experiences (May 2022), is available here: Cost of Living – Water customers’ experiences. Research for this report was conducted in March 2022.
Our second report, Cost of Living: Wave 2 (December 2022), is available here: Cost of Living: Wave 2 – water customers’ experiences. Research for this report was conducted in October 2022.
Links to previous relevant press notices:
- PN 02/23 Ofwat and CCW welcome water companies’ efforts to ease cost of living pressures, but call on them to take further action
- PN 37/22 33% rise in number of customers struggling to pay their water bill, 1 December 2022
- PN 35/22 Ofwat and CCW call on companies to increase financial support for customers, 18 October 2022
Research for the Wave 3 report was carried out by Savanta between 20 and 31 March 2023. Savanta is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
The research involved:
- A survey of 2,294 water bill payers in England and Wales.
- The sample includes 1,874 respondents in England and 420 water bill payers in Wales.
- The data was weighted to be nationally representative.
A booster sample of 306 water bill payers from ethnic minority communities in England and Wales.
The data used in this report is mostly taken from the main sample of bill payers in England and Wales (base: 2,294). However, data that looks at differences by ethnicity includes the ethnic minority booster sample together with the ethnic minority respondents from the main survey, making a total base of 532 respondents.
We will also soon be publishing a one-year review of Ofwat’s ‘Paying Fair’ guidelines, which we introduced to give guidance to companies on how they should be supporting customers in debt, including requiring companies to identify those groups of customers that are struggling most and to target support appropriately. The review will examine the extent to which companies are complying with the guidelines and where there is room for improvement.