Some people do not have a reasonable opportunity to access and receive an inclusive service which may have a detrimental impact on their health, wellbeing or finances. This may be due to personal characteristics, their overall life situation or due to broader market and economic factors.

We call these customers ‘customers in vulnerable circumstances’. They may need extra help accessing or paying for services (or both) to make sure they get the same standard of service as everyone else.

Below we set out our work on vulnerability and wider work to protect household customers in England and Wales.


Supporting customers that need extra help accessing services

Water companies are required to maintain a register of customers that need special assistance to access services – particularly in emergencies.

Every company is aiming to have at least 7% of customers on their priority services register by 2025. Some companies also have specific service promises (‘performance commitments’) in how they treat customers in vulnerable circumstances.

We have set out new guidance for water companies in supporting household customers in England and Wales and non-household customers in Wales who need extra help accessing water and wastewater services.


Supporting customers with cost of living pressures

We know many people are struggling with the cost of living. In October 2022,we and CCW – the consumer representative body for water customers in England and Wales – jointly wrote to all water companies to ask them to set out their plans for supporting customers through cost of living pressures. Research by Ofwat shows that more customers are struggling with household bills and that two-thirds expect their situation to worsen in the coming year.

Water companies submitted their plans to Ofwat and CCW in December 2022. Ofwat has published these plans. They show that water companies are increasing financial support for their customers, with record numbers benefiting from discounted water bills. However, both Ofwat and CCW have called on companies to do even more to help in the face of immediate and urgent cost of living pressures.


Transforming customer care

We have introduced a dedicated condition in the licence of each water company in England and Wales about how they treat their customers, including customers in vulnerable circumstances. The condition will help increase companies’ customer focus and encourage the very best service for customers, while ensuring that we have the right mix of tools to effect change when service falls short. Find out more about our customer-focused licence condition


Our wider work to protect customers

In our strategy, ‘Time to Act, together’, we said we want to see water companies transform their ability to serve customers and respond to the full diversity of customer needs, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.

Water services are inherently local. We want to see companies build on the research they do for their business plans to deepen their understanding of and relationships with their local communities and to improve their ability to meet the needs of the communities they serve.

We expect companies to work with local partners to address strategic challenges. Strong customer and community participation is key to behaviour change needed to use water wisely and reduce the risks of pollution from sewer blockages.

There are a range of actions we take to improve outcomes for customers and communities.

Further information

We provide information to household and non-household consumers and the water and sewerage services we regulate. This includes an overview of consumers’ statutory rights. Information about specific services is available from water companies.

We encourage companies to deliver better services to customers using other tools – including our customer measure of experience.

‘UKRN Understanding affordability pressures in essential services provides an overview of approaches to defining and measuring affordability across the regulated sectors providing the essential services of energy, water and communications