UPDATED: Help for business customers impacted by COVID-19 lockdown
The easing of lockdown measures across England and Wales from 17 May will have come as a welcome relief for the many businesses that had been instructed to close. However, challenging times may still lie ahead, especially uncertainty around business income. If your company has been disrupted or hit financially, we want to ensure that you know what support is on offer, and what you can do to manage your water bills
My business has just reopened – what should I do?
Firstly, it is important to let your water company know that you’ve reopened and provide them with your latest meter read. If you had been unable to provide regular meter reads while you were closed, it may mean that any bills you received while closed were based on inaccurate estimates. Once you have provided your latest read, your retailer should be able to issue a more accurate bill.
It is also important to provide regular meter reads as much as you can. You may not be using as much water as you were before the pandemic. If you are struggling to do this, contact your company to ask for their assistance. We expect that companies should either read the meter themselves, or take alternative steps to ensure your bills reflect your water usage.
If you have been closed for a significant period of time, any water that has remained in your pipework may have become stagnant, and pose a health and safety risk. For further guidance on what to do about this, you may find Water UK’s advice helpful.
You may also be worried about paying your bills as you get back on your feet. If this is the case, you should contact your retailer/company as soon as possible to find out more about what payment assistance they can offer.
My business is still required to be closed – what do I do?
The simplest and most effective way to show that you are not using any water is to provide your company with meter readings. However, it may be impractical to do so while you are closed. If this is the case, we would urge you to contact your company and look for any help and guidance that they have published on their website. We expect companies to work with you to ensure your bills are as accurate as possible and take into account your reduced consumption.
Even though you are not using any water, it is likely that you will still receive a bill for fixed charges. These are the standing charges you pay if you have a meter, and those you may pay for surface water/highways drainage services. If you are struggling to afford these charges, you need to contact your company as soon as possible for help.
I cannot afford to pay my outstanding bill – can I get help?
All companies offer repayment schemes to customers in danger of falling behind on water bill payments due to the impact of the pandemic. These schemes should be tailored to fit your particular circumstances. Your supplier should take into account your ability to pay any outstanding amounts, including interest and/or late payment charges. We would also expect companies to have taken all reasonable steps to help you to pay before they consider taking any debt recovery action.
It’s vital you let your company know you’re struggling to afford your bills as soon as possible, so you can work out a suitable payment plan. If you are in disagreement with them about what you can afford, they should also be clear about what type of evidence they will require to allow them to make a decision.
Was I entitled to any relief on my charges while I was closed?
If you are a business that was closed in England between 16 March – 31 July 2020, you may have been entitled to relief on your charges through the Temporary Vacancy Scheme. If you did not receive this at the time, but think you would have met the criteria, we would advise you to contact your company as soon as possible with any evidence you have of your business closure. Please note this scheme applied to customers on a meter, as well as those who are not.
All business customers in England and Wales who were required to close during the pandemic should contact their company to see if any relief on outstanding, or paid, charges can be provided. As part of this, you should prepare evidence that you were closed – for example, an email or website notification for your customers.
While some companies may not offer to waive, or refund, charges for the period you were closed, support may still be provided to help you clear any outstanding debt. You should contact your water retailer/company as soon as possible to work out a suitable payment plan.
My business has had to close – what do I need to do?
You should contact your company as soon as possible to let them know that you will not be re-opening, and to check what you need to do next. Most companies will require some evidence that you have closed, including a final meter reading to ensure your bills are up to date. Some may also require evidence that you have removed all furniture, fixtures, and fittings from your premises before you are considered to be a ‘vacant’ property. It is important that you receive clear guidance from your retailer on what you need to do so you do not receive any bills after you have closed.
How can CCW help my business?
We will continue to do everything in our power to support business customers through these uncertain times – particularly those anxious about not being able to afford their bills. That’s why we’re working closely with water retailers/companies to make sure they treat their customers fairly, and we won’t hesitate to challenge them if they fail to do so.
If you think that you are being denied support by your company, or you are not being treated fairly, we would advise you to follow your company’s complaints procedure. If the issue is not resolved through this, please contact us for assistance. We will review your complaint, and offer further advice and support.
Original article link: https://www.ccwater.org.uk/blog/2021/06/03/blog-help-for-business-customers-during-coronavirus/
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