Northumbrian Water is introducing a social tariff to help customers who are having difficulty paying their bills, it is announced today during National Debt Awareness Week.
A payment package has been designed which enables customers in need to be supported and which will not add to the bills which other customers pay.
The water company will also introduce a scheme to help customers struggling with significant arrears to get back on their feet.
The two new payment packages are part of the water company’s SupportPLUS measures, which the water company has in place to provide customers with a range of extra help.
Results of research carried out in 2013 and 2014, showed that Northumbrian Water customers were not prepared to support a social tariff for those in financial difficulty, if it was subsidised by an increase across everyone’s bill.
Since then Northumbrian Water has been working with partners, including StepChange Debt Charity, to design a social tariff which will not increase bills for other customers. Instead it will be funded from money already set aside to manage bad debt.
Customer Director, Claire Sharp, said: "We are dedicated to providing our customers with the best possible service at all times. We know some customers really struggle to pay their utility bills so are introducing a social tariff scheme for our water customers who meet certain criteria. Our scheme will not mean an increase for all customers to pay for it.
"We want to support customers who are genuinely struggling to pay and we understand that sometimes life’s ups and downs mean some customers may find themselves in a challenging and worrying financial situation. Our SupportPLUS package will give extra help when it’s most needed."
The news of this social tariff introduction builds on the existing support that Northumbrian Water has in place to help those struggling to pay which includes being the first water company to form a partnership with the StepChange Debt Charity a year ago. This partnership enables both organisations to work closely together to identify, support and advise customers who are in financial difficulty.
Mark McElvanney, Relationship Manager, StepChange Debt Charity, said: "We welcome Northumbrian Water’s introduction of their social tariff and are pleased to be working in partnership with them to help provide support, advice and access to these new support packages.
"We know that people’s budgets are increasingly stretched and simply covering basic household bills is becoming increasingly difficult for many households. Working with utility providers is crucial to helping us reach those in or on the edge of financial difficulty to get them the advice and support they need and to help get them back on their feet."
Northumbrian Water is keen to reach an agreement on payment offers from customers in difficulty and has always offered sustainable and flexible payment arrangements for customers.
Water company employees have been trained to better understand customer circumstances and the company also works in partnership with other free advice agencies including the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Money Advice Trust National Debtline.
It has carried out proactive campaigns approaching customers who might save money by metering.
It is working with local groups, like lottery-funded ‘Know your Money Middlesbrough’, aimed at giving advice to young people in their first home.
It offers water efficiency advice to help customers reduce water consumption and therefore bills and freephone and local area phone numbers have been introduced for contact by customers in debt.
Customers who are facing difficulty in paying their bills can find more information at www.nwl.co.uk/your-home/your-account/Difficulty-paying.aspx and by visiting www.stepchage.org
For further media information contact: Alistair Baker, PR & Media Manager, 0191-3016851 / 07711-793493