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.
In some circumstances a water meter may be cheaper, especially if you don’t use much water. You are charged for only the water you use. You can trial a water meter for at least a year, and some water companies allow a trial period of two years. Usually, you can swap back to the non-metered system if you don’t want the water meter, for example if your bills are higher than before. This option is not available in areas of England where compulsory metering is being introduced. For further information visit www.ccwater.org.uk
If you want a water meter, but your supplier tells you that one cannot be fitted, you can ask to be billed for an assessed charge. This may be cheaper than what you usually have to pay. Payments are based on the average of what metered customers pay.
Companies can install a water meter when a property is sold, or a tenant moves out, or when there is a shortage of water in their area. You do not have the right to swap back to a non-metered supply in these situations.
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.
WaterSure and WaterSure Wales
If you are on a low income, you may be eligible for assistance through two schemes called WaterSure and WaterSure Wales. WaterSure is available to households with a water meter except customers of Welsh Water. WaterSure Wales is available to customers of Welsh Water only, who have a water meter.
WaterSure limits your bill to an amount which is equal to the average bill that the company charge their customers. WaterSure Wales will cap your bill at a set amount. If you use a lot of water, your bill will reduce with either scheme. You can stay on the scheme for a year and will have to reapply again. If you or someone living with you, receives one of the following you may be able to qualify: Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Working Tax Credit,Child Tax Credit (except families in receipt of the family element only), Universal Credit, Pension Credit, or income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
In addition you also need:
- to be responsible for three or more children under the age of 19 and in full-time education living in the property; or
- to have a medical condition which requires significant additional use of water, or someone living with you has this condition. Examples of medical conditions include weeping skin diseases (such as psoriasis), Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. If you have a medical condition that is not listed, you can still qualify if you use large amounts of water. You may need a doctor’s certificate as proof.
If you have a reason to complain about your water company, you should speak or write to your water company in the first instance. You will be able to find details on your bill. Alternatively CCWater has a list of contact details on its website www.ccwater.org.uk with details of each water company and their complaint procedure. Your water company should reply to you within ten working days.
If you are not happy with the outcome, you can escalate the complaint to CCWater, who are independent from the water company and will investigate your complaint. If you are unhappy about the outcome of your complaint after CCWater have dealt with it, you can make a further complaint to the Water Redress Scheme (WATRS). This scheme is free and they make an independent decision, which the water company has to follow.
Water Trust Funds
Some water companies have charitable trust funds. They may offer help with water and sewerage debt only and others may be able to help with other priority debts and application costs (for example for bankruptcy). Visit the Auriga Services website www.aurigaservices.co.uk for information. If your supplier does not have a trust fund, an application could be made to the British Gas Energy Trust, even if you are not a consumer of British Gas.
Some water companies run ‘restart schemes’. This is where you start with a regular payment plan and the payments you make are matched by the trust fund. If you keep up with the payments, for a period of time, the rest of your debt may be written off. You may need to contact a local advice agency to help you complete the application.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater)
T: 0300 034 2222 (England) or 0300 034 3333 (Wales)
The Water Redress Scheme (WATRS)
T: 0207 520 3801
T: 0121 321 1324
British Gas Energy Trust
T: 01733 421 021