Water arrears are not usually considered a priority debt but there are exceptions (listed below) and you are expected to include ongoing water usage as essential expenditure in your household budget.
A water company is not allowed to 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 does threaten to disconnect you for being in arrears, you should make a complaint to the Consumer Council for Water. Some water companies may threaten disconnection if they think a property is empty. Keep in contact with your water company, because they may attempt to cut off the supply if no one has answered their letters for some time. Make sure they are aware you are still in the property and that they cannot disconnect your water supply.
Please note that protection from disconnection does not apply to businesses.
Priority Water Debt
Water included in your rent
Some tenancy agreements include the payment of water rates as part of your rent. Where this is the case and you have accrued water arrears, it can count as rent arrears. Consequently this could lead to court action to repossess your home. Therefore water arrears in this situation, should be treated as a priority payment. Negotiate an amount that you can afford to pay towards the arrears with your landlord.
County court action
Your water supplier can issue a county court claim to recover your water rates arrears. You can reply to the claim and make an offer of payment that you can afford. If your offer is refused, the court will decide what you should pay. If you cannot pay the judgment, and the debt is more than £600, debt recovery can be passed to High Court Enforcement Officers.
Payment of Water Arrears
For water rates that are not included as part of your rent, you should include them as part of your ongoing expenses in your budget plan, as an essential expenditure. If you pay your water bill each month, but over less than twelve months, ask your water company to reset your payments over the full twelve months. This will reduce your actual monthly amount. Speak to your supplier to see if they have a special tariff which can reduce the amount of your current water charges. You should make an offer of repayment that you can afford using your budget, along with other non-priority debts for example credit cards and unsecured loans.
Deductions from benefit
If you are in receipt of 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 your current water rates and a standard amount towards the arrears. To arrange this contact your water supplier, or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), with details of your most recent water bill.
Accessibility and vulnerability
If you have a water meter but need 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 more easy and accessible to read. Bills can also be produced in large print or in Braille. Contact your supplier for details about how they can help your individual needs.