United Utilities has launched two new financial support schemes, one of which guarantees to help customers behind with their water bills to be debt free within two years.
It launched these schemes at its first ever affordability summit in Liverpool where it has brought together organisations from across the region who deal with customers in challenging circumstances to discuss what more can be done to support those struggling to make ends meet.
Louise Beardmore, customer service director at United Utilities, said:
“From our point of view, if customers are struggling with water bills, they are likely to be struggling to pay most of their household bills, so this is collective challenge to see what more we could all be doing to help and support people.
“We already offer a wide range of financial assistance schemes to support our most vulnerable customers, but we are challenging ourselves to improve the scale and effectiveness of the support we offer. We also know lots of customers may be unaware of what we do or feel unable to reach out for the help.
“Coming together with others who can likewise support customers and encourage them to access the help available is important for getting people out of poverty and back on track.”
Over half of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK are in the North West and attending the summit are key agencies, utilities, local authorities, credit unions, foodbanks, housing associations and charitable organisations from across the region.
Prominent Labour MP Angela Eagle, who is opening the event, said: “Many people across the North West are struggling to stay up to date with their bills and any additional help that can be given is so important. It can make all the difference between having money to buy food or requiring help from a food bank.
“I am pleased United Utilities is holding the North West Affordability Summit and I look forward to taking part. This is an important opportunity to discuss further ways to alleviate the problems of those facing financial hardship, which is particularly acute at this time of year.”
Also supporting the event to emphasise the importance of organisations working together to tackle these issues is Lord John Bird, founder of the Big Issue. He said:
“Affordability is a central part of the agenda. During times of austerity, many people are offering support to those in their own communities who find themselves in the grip of poverty. It’s important for large businesses to do the same; especially those businesses that provide an integral service to the most vulnerable and have a stake in tackling the poverty premium.
“Spiralling into debt is one of the largest contributing factors to rising poverty. It’s why we need to work together – social business, corporates, the public sector, government – to scale up the solutions. Solutions that prevent people getting into problem debt in the first place, and – if they’re there – helping them find manageable and affordable routes out.
“At The Big Issue Group, our mission is to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. We exist to help those who need a hand up, and out, of extremely trying circumstances. Our Big Issue vendors come from a variety of backgrounds, and face a myriad of problems. We will continue to be there for the most vulnerable, but, more than ever, we also need to combine the ideas, energy and resources of all those working to dismantle the root causes of poverty in the UK.”
United Utilities new payment plus scheme is for customers who are behind with their water bill payments. For those customers who commit to a payment plan, for every pound they pay off towards their outstanding debt, United Utilities will pay a pound too.
After six months, the company will increase its contribution to two pounds for every pound the customer pays and after two years, any debt that remains will be written off – guaranteed debt-free in two years.
In response to the roll-out of Universal Credit, the company is also offering customers a suspension or delay in their payments for up to eight weeks, giving them time to manage their budgets in the event of a short-term reduction in their household income due to the transition over to Universal Credit