PN 18/21: Water companies need to help break the vicious circle for customers struggling with bills and poor mental health


Customers in need of financial support are more likely to have poor mental health, but those who struggle with their mental health find it much harder to ask for help with bills – creating a vicious circle for people in need of support.

Research commissioned by Ofwat has found that this vicious circle has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

As part of its #ListenCareShare conversation, Ofwat has been looking at how the pandemic has impacted on customers’ wellbeing and mental health. It found that around half (48%) of bill payers report their mental health has been worse over the last year.

A similar proportion (51%) believe that struggling with mental health makes it harder to ask for help with bills and some are not aware that support exists. For those already facing challenges with their bills, that rises to two-thirds (65%).

The link between mental health, ability to pay and low awareness of support has become a growing concern. Those experiencing mental health challenges find it harder to ask for help, sometimes through nervousness or embarrassment of their situation and sometimes because they are not aware that support is available. To tackle this, water companies should be identifying the most appropriate way to communicate with their customers – using more traditional means of communication such as phone calls, in addition to alternative channels such as web chats and email where that is preferred. Water companies need to take an empathetic, tailored and gentle approach to support customers.

David Black, Interim Chief Executive at Ofwat said:

“Customers who are struggling financially and have poor mental health are less inclined to seek help. Breaking this vicious circle is a difficult challenge to overcome, but one that can be tackled by companies working better with their customers.

“Companies can go even further to promote the services they have available to instill trust in bill payers so that issues can be identified at an earlier stage.


Notes to editors:

  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.