Ofwat issues new guidance to support customers in vulnerable circumstances
Ofwat has launched a consultation on new guidance for water companies setting out how they should support their customers who require extra help in accessing water services.
Those who require extra help may include people with long-term as well as temporary circumstances such as disabilities, mental health conditions, families with young children, or those who are unable to speak English.
In its draft guidance the regulator says that companies should:
- Provide a high standard of support to customers in situations of vulnerability,
- Develop services that are inclusive for all,
- Identify customers who need extra help and what those needs are,
- Record and securely store the needs of customers,
- Develop strategies for meeting the needs of vulnerable customers.
The new guidance follows proposed new rules announced by Ofwat earlier this year, which will place legal obligations on water companies to provide high standards of customer service and support.
The proposed guidance also clearly sets out how companies will be held accountable for delivering support services to customers who need them.
Beth Corbould, Interim Senior Director for Customers, Casework and Enforcement at Ofwat said:
“We are clear that water companies must continue to improve the service they offer their customers. When customers experience issues with their water supply, good customer service and communication becomes even more important, especially for people who may require extra support. This new guidance is the next step we are putting in place to improve outcomes, protect customers, and ensure companies are held to account.”
The consultation on the new guidance will be open for feedback until 18 October 2023.
While this guidance sets out Ofwat’s approach to supporting customers that need extra help with accessing services, the regulator is also taking action to ensure that companies are supporting those who are struggling financially. A detailed assessment has been carried out of all water companies’ approaches to supporting customers paying their bill, accessing financial help and repaying debts. This examines companies’ compliance with Ofwat’s Paying Fair Guidelines. Companies have confirmed that they comply with each of the paying fair principles and, where they need to go further, Ofwat and CCW will follow up on commitments made.
Note to editors
- ‘Service for all – Ofwat’s draft vulnerability guidance for water companies supporting customers who need extra help’: https://www.ofwat.gov.uk/consultation/service-for-all-ofwats-draft-vulnerability-guidance-for-water-companies-supporting-customers-who-need-extra-help/
- Ofwat’s Paying fair guidelines: https://www.ofwat.gov.uk/regulated-companies/vulnerability/paying-fair-guidelines/
- ‘How water companies are committing to Paying Fair– our compliance assessment’: https://www.ofwat.gov.uk/regulated-companies/vulnerability/how-water-companies-are-committing-to-paying-fair-our-compliance-assessment
- In the responses to our customer-focused licence condition consultation, over half of respondents listed vulnerability guidance as the key priority in relation to underpinning guidance for the licence condition.
- Ofwat has also sought to support customers with vulnerabilities through innovation. Our £200 million innovation fund has awarded funding through a series of competitions to innovations that could transform water and wastewater services. This includes projects to help customers that need extra help, such as:
- The ‘Vulnerable Customers’ project used behavioural science to understand more about the water sector’s consumers in order to deliver tailored communication.
- The ‘Fair Water’ project is testing and developing more effective and sustainable water and energy solutions for people’s homes – including those on low-incomes, the elderly and vulnerable.
- The ‘Support for All’ project is designing, building and delivering a hub to securely host data on customers in vulnerable circumstances.
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