PN 16/21: Customers are more than three times as likely to pay bills by credit card than ask for help


Research commissioned by Ofwat as part of #ListenCareShare, a piece of work to understand customers’ experiences during the pandemic, shows that customers are more than three times as likely to pay bills by credit card than ask for help.

The research also shows that a third of customers are struggling to pay household bills and this proportion rises to more than half of customers (51%) when looking at those with children aged 11 or under. Four in ten customers (41%) are worried about money over the next six months.

In that context, it is concerning that only 15% of water customers were aware of water companies providing financial support during the pandemic. And just 3% of bill payers reported they had received any form of financial support for water during the pandemic.

This new research highlights 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 a helping hand.

The research suggests that many customers who are struggling financially are doing so for the first time and so may not know how to access support or be known to companies as customers in need of 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.”

Further information about the research and its findings can be found on the website.


  1. #ListenCareShare. We are listening to water customers to understand their experience over the past year, what happened to them and what it has felt like. We are also listening to companies and to experts to get a richer, rounder picture informed by their insight. We  care about the water sector doing all it can to support and deliver for customers. So we are exploring what more can be done in these unprecedented times to make sure customers get the help that will make a difference for them. And we want to share what we hear – the good ideas, the areas that need attention, and the learning that we and others pick up. Through an open and collaborative approach, we can help to make sure that customers across the country are getting what they need from their water company.
  2. You can join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #ListenCareShare. We would welcome ideas or suggestions for how we can respond to changing customer needs, including best practice examples from the sector and beyond. Please get in touch with us via email to [email protected]
  3. The research findings are taken from an online survey of 2,100 bill payers. The survey was conducted by Panelbase between 26 March and 1 April 2021. Data is weighted to be nationally representative for England and Wales. Findings from this survey will continue to be released during the Listen Care Share conversation. The full set of findings will be published at the end of the campaign. Please contact us via email to [email protected] if you would like further details on this survey or findings.
  4. Respondents were asked about which, if any, of a list of actions they had taken over the last six months. We found 35% had taken at least one of the below actions:
  • Used credit cards to pay bills (12%)
  • Asked family/friends for financial support (10%)
  • Used overdraft to pay bills (10%)
  • Looked online for financial support (7%)
  • Fallen behind on utility bills (6%)
  • Spoken to companies I pay bills to for financial support (4%)
  • Taken out short term loans (4%)
  • Used food banks (4%)
  • Made use of mortgage holiday schemes (4%)
  • Fallen behind on rent/mortgage payments (3%)
  • Received another type of financial support (2%)
  • Used debt charities for financial support (1%)

Some respondents took more than one of these actions. 65% reported taking none of the actions.