Ofwat sets out new rules to protect vulnerable customers

Ofwat has set out clear minimum standards for water companies to ensure that those customers who need extra help are provided with the level of service they require. 

The new vulnerability guidance recognises that some customers need extra help to access water and wastewater services, such as those who are sick, have a disability or have mental health problems. It will include service standards which make clear that water companies will be expected to:

  • Provide a high standard of service and support for vulnerable customers.
  • Develop services that are inclusive by design.
  • Identify customers who need extra help.
  • Record their needs.
  • Develop and implement vulnerability strategies.

The guidance follows a consultation period during which Ofwat received over 30 responses from organisations including Scope, Age UK and Mencap, in the main supporting the need for this guidance.

Ofwat also plans to introduce a new customer-focused licence condition, in early 2024, to encourage high standards of customer service and support for the full diversity of customer needs. It will take companies’ consideration of the vulnerability guidance into account when assessing compliance with these new licence condition.

Lynn Parker, senior director for casework, customers and enforcement said:

“With customer bills likely to rise, it is vital that companies redouble their efforts to improve the service they offer, especially to those who are most vulnerable. This new guidance makes clear the level of support we expect all companies to provide to customers who may need extra help for whatever reason. If they do not do so, we will take action and hold them to account.”

Alongside the vulnerability guidance, Ofwat has also published its latest ‘Cost of living report’ that looks at the experiences of water bill payers in England and Wales.

The findings in this report show that 50% of bill payers continued to struggle fairly frequently over the last year with household bills. This increases to two-thirds (65%) of those with a long-term illness, health condition or disability.

While cost of living pressures are widespread, the research found that awareness of the support available for those struggling has continued to remain low. As such, Ofwat is encouraging anyone who is struggling to pay a water bill, to contact their water company to find out what schemes are on offer that could reduce bills, smooth payments, or help with debt.

SourceOfwat

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