Water arrears and trust funds
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. You will need different advice if you live in Scotland.
This fact sheet tells you the rules that apply to water debt and how to deal with it. It also explains how you may be able get help paying your water bill and how trust funds may benefit you. Use this fact sheet to:
- help you deal with a water debt;
- explore schemes that may help you to pay your water debt;
- see if you can make any savings on your bill;
- find out if a trust fund can support you; and
- find out how to complain about a water company.
Is water a priority debt?
Water arrears are classed as a non-priority debt because a water company cannot disconnect your domestic water supply if you are in arrears, or install anything in your home that restricts the flow of water from the taps. If the water company threatens to disconnect you for being in arrears, complain to the Consumer Council for Water (CCW). See the Making a complaint section later in this fact sheet for information on how to do this.
The water company may attempt to cut off your water supply if no one has answered their letters for some time. If you have a threat of disconnection to your supply, contact the water company. Make sure they understand that you are still in the property and that they cannot disconnect your water supply.
This does not apply to businesses. If you are trading as a small business, contact Business Debtline on 0800 197 6026.
Water rates with rent
Some water companies threaten to disconnect a property on the basis that they think the property is empty. Keep in touch with your company, because they may attempt to cut off the water supply if no one has answered their letters for some time. If you have a threat of disconnection to your supply, contact the water company. Make sure they understand that you are still in the property and that they cannot disconnect your water supply.
If you need time to get debt advice and find a debt solution, you may want to consider applying for breathing space.
Breathing space will stop most types of enforcement and also stop most creditors applying interest and charges for 60 days.
To find out more, see our Breathing space fact sheet.
Water bill arrears
Whilst you can’t be disconnected it is still important to try and pay your water bill because water is an on-going bill and an essential expense. You should carry on including your current water payments in the Your outgoings section of Your budget.
If you are struggling to repay your water bill or have built up arrears you should contact your water company as soon as possible to try and reach a repayment agreement.
If you pay your water bill monthly, but over less than 12 months, ask your water company to reset your payments over the full 12 months. This will reduce the amount that you have to pay each month.
Once you have completed your budget you can offer to repay the water arrears at a rate that you can afford, along with any other credit debts, in the Your non-priority debts section of Your budget. You should only offer to pay what you can afford to any arrears you may have.
You should pay your on-going bill and what you have offered to any arrears whether your water supplier agrees or not, so that your arrears start to come down rather than increase.
Ofwat’s guidelines state that water companies should 'agree payments that are right for each customer in debt' and 'treat customers facing debt recovery action with care.' See the Ofwat's guidelines guidance to support customerssection of this budget sheet for more information.
If you believe that your water company is not agreeing to a reasonable proposal you could look to make a complaint. See the Making a complaints section later in the fact sheet.
Deduction from benefits
If you are on Income Support, Pension Credit, Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, you can ask the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to deduct a sum from your benefit or Universal Credit payment to cover current water rates and a standard amount towards the arrears. Contact your water company, or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), with details of your most recent water bill to arrange this. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet for more information.
Water trust funds
Many water companies run charitable trust funds which may be able to pay off some or all of your arrears. Some offer help only with water and sewerage debt; others are prepared to help with other priority debts and even bankruptcy fees in certain situations.
Eligibility for the trust fund will depend on your situation. They are more likely to help if you are on a low income or benefits, have significant money problems or if you are dealing with a change of circumstances such as unemployment, the death of a partner, relationship breakdown or illness.
It is likely that the water company will want you to seek budgeting and debt advice before they agree to help you via their trust fund. They will usually want to go through your budget sheet so that they are fully aware of your financial situation before making a decision; they will want to know that payments are affordable moving forward.
If Your budget sheet shows a deficit (you have more going out than you have coming in) the water company may reject your application as they do not feel it will deal with your overall financial situation. If you do have a deficit budget sheet and need some budgeting advice before making an application please contact us.
You can still apply to a trust fund with a deficit budget but it may be better to delay your application until your situation has improved and you have a more balanced budget sheet. You should ask the water company to hold action and explain to them what steps you are taking to try and reduce the deficit on your budget sheet.
You'll need to ask your water supplier whether they have a trust fund and the eligibility criteria. .
What if my water company refuses my offer of payment?
If your water company does not agree to the payments you offer they may pass your debt to a debt collection agency. Collection agencies are not bailiffs and have no powers to remove any of your items. If you are registered with the water company as requiring special assistance they should not pass a debt to a collection agency where an agent is unable to provide the level of service that you require. See the Priority services register section below.
You should negotiate a repayment plan with the collection agency, again based on your budget sheet. Ofwat’s guidelines state that ‘customers whose accounts are managed by debt recovery agents should wherever practicable receive the same level of service and care as those whose accounts remain with the water company’.
A collection agency should not act in a threatening manner; if you are unhappy with the conduct of a collection agency you can make a complaint to the water company. See the Making a complaint section later in the fact sheet.
It is possible for a water company or collection agency to take County court action against you. You will be given the chance to make an affordable payment offer through the court. If your water company refuses your offer, the court will decide what you should pay. It would only be if you default on any agreement with the court that enforcement action could be taken. If you receive a threat of court or any court papers contact us for advice.
Priority Services Register
All water companies have a priority services register. It is a free scheme which allows you to register for any support that you may need.
You may need additional support due to age, ill health, low mobility, mental health problems, learning difficulties, financial worries or language barriers amongst other things.
Depending on your needs the water company may provide a range of services such as.
- Home visits- you can ask for a water company to visit you at home to discuss your bill.
- Emergency water supply- you can register for the water company to deliver an emergency supply of water in the event of your supply being interrupted and you are unable to get to a collection point.
- Nominated contact- If you have someone who helps manage your bills, such as a relative or carer, you can register for them to receive copies of your bills.
- You can also register how you would prefer your water company to contact you. You can ask to be contacted in braille, CD/audio, sign language, interpreter or in an alternative language.
CCW have more detail on the priority services that your water supplier should provide. Contact your water company to discuss your priority needs.
Social tariffs and restart schemes
Most water companies have social tariffs which give a special rate for people on low income or receiving certain benefits.
The tariff will vary depending on your supplier but it is possible you may receive a discount of 50% or more on your water bill for a period of time. Contact your supplier to ask about their social tariff scheme. You can find a list of water companies and any social tariffs they provide through CCW’s website.
Some water companies run ‘restart schemes’. If you take part, you start a regular payment plan and the payments you make are matched by the water company. If you keep up with the payments, the rest of your debt may be written off. Contact your water supplier to find out
WaterSure and WaterSure Wales
You may be able to get help with water bills if you are on a low income through two schemes called WaterSure and WaterSure Wales. WaterSure is available to households with a water meter except customers of Welsh Water. WaterSure Wales is available to help customers of Welsh Water only, who have a water meter.
WaterSure limits your bill to an amount equal to the average bill that the water company charges its customers. WaterSure Wales caps your bill at a set amount. If you use a lot of water, your bill will go down with either scheme. You can stay on the scheme for a year and, when that comes to an end, you will have to reapply.
To qualify for help under the schemes, you or someone living with you, needs be entitled to receive one of the following benefits or tax credits:
- Housing Benefit;
- Income Support;
- Working Tax Credit;
- Child Tax Credit (except families in receipt of the family element only);
- Universal Credit;
- Pension Credit; or
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
You will need to give proof of the benefits you are receiving. You also need:
- to be responsible for three or more children under the age of 19 and in full-time education living in the property; or
- have a medical condition which requires significant additional use of water, or someone living with you has this condition. Examples of medical conditions include weeping skin diseases (such as psoriasis), Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
If you have a medical condition that is not listed, you can still qualify if you use large amounts of water. You may need a doctor’s certificate as proof.
You can get an application form from your water company. The water company's contact details are on your bill, or you can get them from CCW's website.
Claiming WaterSure Wales
You can request, print off and complete an application form by following the link on Welsh Water’s website www.dwrcymru.com. Alternatively, you can ask for an application form by calling Welsh Water on 0800 052 0140.
Saving money and water meters
Contact CCW to see if your bills are likely to be cheaper if you move to a water meter. Use a Water Meter Calculator on the homepage of their website www.ccw.org.uk.
You can have a water meter put in so that you are only charged for the water you use. It may be cheaper to have a water meter put in if you don’t use much water. You can trial a water meter for at least 12 months. Some water companies allow a two-year trial period. Usually, you can swap back to the non-metered system if you don’t want the water meter because your bills are higher than before. This option is not available in areas of England where compulsory metering is being introduced.
If you would prefer a water meter, but your supplier tells you that one cannot be fitted, you can ask your water company to be billed for an assessed charge. This may be cheaper than what you usually have to pay because it will be based on the average of what metered customers pay. You can read more about this on CCW's website www.ccw.org.uk.
Companies can put in a water meter when a property is sold, or a tenant moves out, or when there is a shortage of water in their area. In these cases, you do not have the right to swap back to a non-metered supply.
If you have a water meter and need extra help to read it because of age, disability or illness, you can ask your water company to re-site your water meter to make it easier to read. You can also ask to have bills in large print or in Braille. Contact your water company for details about the special help they can give.
Ways of saving money
CCW have some great tips of using less water and energy at home, this can help keep your water and energy bills down. We have listed some below, for more tips and more detailed advice on saving money please visit www.ccw.org.uk
- Check for leaks- check inside and out for damp patches, call your supplier if you think there is a leak.
- Use a full dishwasher and washing machine before turning it on.
- Have a shower rather than a bath.
- Use fewer pots/pans and reuse mugs/cups/glasses to save on washing up water.
Ofwat guidance to support customers
The Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat, has guidelines which water companies should follow to help their customers pay their bill, access help and repay debt.
The guidelines have seven key principles. Water companies should:
- help make it easy for all customers to pay their water bill;
- make sure customers who are eligible for help receive it when needed;
- treat customers that have their accounts managed by agents (local authorities, housing associations or some other form of billing agent) as customers of the company;
- be proactive in contacting customers in debt;
- be clear, courteous, and non- threatening to customers in debt;
- agree payments that are right for each customer in debt; and
- treat customers facing debt recovery action with care.
Examples of each principle and more information can be found in the Ofwat's publication Paying fair- guidelines for water companies in supporting residential customers pay their bill, access help and repay debts.
If you do not believe that your water company is following the guidelines, you can look to make a complaint. See the Making a complaint section below.
Standard licence conditions for water
Water companies require a water supply and/or sewerage licence, regulated by Ofwat. Licences contain conditions that licence holders must abide by.
The licence condition gives Ofwat powers to act against any water company which fails to provide appropriate support to its customers. Condition G of the standard licence conditions is called the customer focused licence condition.
A full list of customer focused licence conditions can be found on Ofwats website. The two conditions you may find most useful if you need to make a complaint are:
G3.5 The Appointee understands the needs of its customers and provides appropriate support, including appropriate support for customers in vulnerable circumstances, and including during and following incidents.
G3.6 As part of meeting principle G3.5 above, the Appointee provides support for its customers who are struggling to pay, and for customers in debt.
Whilst Ofwat will not investigate individual complaints, they can take action against a water company that is found to be breach of a licence condition. If Ofwat are satisfied that a company has breached a condition of its licence they can take formal enforcement action to secure compliance, which can include fines of up to 10% of the company’s turnover.
If you do not believe that your water company is following the licence conditions, you can look to make a complaint. See the Making a complaint section below.
Making a complaint
If you have a complaint about your water company, you should write or email your water company explaining the problem and what action you would like them to take. The address is on your bill. CCW has a list of contact details on its website www.ccw.org.uk.
Each water company has a complaint procedure they can send you. Your water company should reply to your complaint within 10 working days.
If you are not happy with the outcome, you can complain to CCW. They are independent from the water company and will investigate your complaint. You can find the contact details on the CCW website www.ccw.org.uk, or phone on 0300 034 2222 (in England) or 0300 034 3333 (in Wales).
CCW will manage and oversee each complaint step – including mediation and final adjudication.
Department for Work and Pensions on GOV.UK www.gov.uk
Scope A charity with experts providing support for disabled households facing issues around energy and water Phone: 0808 801 0828 www.scope.org.uk/disability-energy-support
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) Phone: 0300 034 2222 (England) or 0300 034 3333 (Wales) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.ccw.org.uk