The industry-leading commitment to lift 400,000 customers from water poverty was launched at a parliamentary reception attended by MPs and key figures from the water industry on Tuesday 22 May. The event also saw the launch of an innovative new research and delivery partnership with charity National Energy Action (NEA), building on the progress it has already made with tackling fuel poverty.
Water poverty refers to people who spend more than 3% of their income in their water bill, after housing costs.
Industry regulator Ofwat estimates that as few as 10% of customers who are struggling with their bill currently receive help from their water company via a social tariff. This is a genuine concern as there are a wide range of schemes available for those who need help paying their water bills.
In response to this NWG is launching a completely new approach which will focus on all causes of water poverty, rather than limit the response to only introducing new tariffs. The approach was co-created with NWG′s own customers, who through large-scale customer engagement activities made clear how important it was to them that services are available to everyone and, as a central concern, affordable for all.
This industry-leading level of support will see 300,000 NWG customers lifted from water poverty by 2025 and 400,000 by 2030 - eradicating Water Poverty in the communities NWG serves.
This will be achieved by a holistic solution that includes -
• Education on the benefits of metering and water efficiency
• Working with partners to offer free financial advice classes
• Building our people′s knowledge of financial management, through training, volunteering and team activities
• Supporting community groups as part of our Just an Hour employee volunteering programme
• Deploying our volunteers in local communities allowing them to better understand customers specific circumstances and build relationships
In addition NWG launched a brand new social tariff for customers who are genuinely struggling to pay their water and wastewater bills. The company′s wider engagement with its customers has shown that they supported a cross-subsidy to expand its social tariff, which now allows it to offer 50% discounts for those who need it most. This scheme has already seen strong take up in its first few months.
Its new partnership with NEA will see NWG fund a new Water Poverty Unit, to take on the challenge of bringing affordable water and affordable warmth to all vulnerable and low-income householders. This is a partnership focused on both research and delivery - with guaranteed three-year funding that will also see the launch of ‘on the ground′ programmes.
This is a multi-year commitment that will not only help to understand what opportunities there are to help the most vulnerable customers, but also offer opportunities for the wider water and utilities sector, to take on the challenges set by industry regulators Ofwat and Ofgem.
Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive, Northumbrian Water Group, said: "Every day we strive harder to give better service, and our customers tell us, that improving their ability to afford our services is one of the most important ways we can help them. I am very proud to announce a long-term commitment to our customers that we believe will deliver the chance to change their lives for the better.
"Working with partners, including our new partner National Energy Action, taking on board customer feedback, alongside activities that seek to make a real difference to our customer′s lives demonstrates our ambition.
"This is not a static, one-shot attempt at improving comparative affordability of our services. It is a first of its kind, long-term commitment; an adaptive and unique effort to eradicate water poverty."
Claire Sharp, Customer Director, Northumbrian Water Group, said: "It is vitally important that our services are available to all of our customers, and affordable for all. Our new approach will give us a game changing opportunity to eradicate water poverty for our customers, and we are excited to be working alongside National Energy Action to make this happen."
Adam Scorer, Chief Executive, NEA, said: ‘′This is a tremendously exciting project. We are delighted to use our 35 years′ experience tackling fuel poverty to help better understand and tackle water poverty. People who struggle to afford a warm and dry home will struggle to afford other essential services, such as water. Understanding what works and how it can be applied in energy and water should bring benefits to both sectors and we look forward to working with NWG, and other water stakeholders, to help make it happen.′′