People across the region facing increasing cost of living pressures can access a £30 million support fund being launched today by Severn Trent. As the cost of living continues to rise, the water company has pledged to support an extra 100,000 customers who are struggling to pay their water bills. The funds are available to those on low incomes.
Severn Trent is the first water company in the UK to offer support on this scale. The move builds on the support that Severn Trent already provides to 215,000 customers, with an extensive range of schemes to help those in need. Those eligible could see a reduction in their bill of up to 90%.
Liv Garfield, Severn Trent CEO, said: “As cost of living pressures continue to rise, we’re acting now to support people struggling to pay their bills. Our customers have the second lowest bill in the UK, at around £1 per day, but we know that for some, paying this remains a challenge.
“I’m pleased to announce a commitment today to help thousands more people on low incomes to reduce their water bill by up to 90%” Liv added.
According to the Consumer Council for Water, 6% of people in the Midlands are classed as being in water poverty. Water poverty applies to those customers who spend more than 5% of their total income (after household costs) on their water bill.
Research by management consultants CEPA suggests 6.5% (around 1.5m) households in England and Wales are in water poverty. Severn Trent believes supporting an extra 100,000 people will directly help those in water poverty, supporting a total of 315,000 of the company’s most financially vulnerable customers.
Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), said: “No one should have to worry about being to afford their water bill so we’re delighted to see Severn Trent putting its hand in its own pocket to help thousands more low-income households at a time of real crisis for many people.”
“Our independent review of water affordability set out a clear path to ending people’s worries over water bills and with the support of companies like Severn Trent and the wider water sector we can ensure people struggling to pay always get the help they need, when they need it most.” Today’s pledge complements Severn Trent’s other financial customer support schemes, which have helped over 627,500 people pay their bills.
David Black, Ofwat CEO said, "No one should have to choose between paying for water and paying for food. We're pleased to see Severn Trent recognising the increased pressure facing customers and acting now to help those struggling in water poverty. Other companies should look to do more to respond to the cost of living worries and we will be issuing new guidelines to signal the increased expectations of Ofwat and the public."
The company provides support through The Big Difference Scheme and WaterSure, as well as a payment matching scheme, for those needing help with bills. The company encourages its customers to sign up to its Priority Services Register too, if they feel they would benefit from a more personalised service. The register helps identify customers with medical conditions, disability or restricted mobility, sight or hearing loss.
CBI Midlands Director Rick Blackmore said: “The rising cost of living is having an acute impact on families and businesses across the country, and support for those most in need is essential and welcome.
“Responsible businesses have gone to great lengths to support their most vulnerable customers, just as they have throughout the difficulties of the past two years. Severn Trent’s support fund for low-income families is a great example of a business playing their part to protect people in need during times of crisis” Rick added.
Leader of Birmingham City Council, Cllr Ian Ward said: "The cost of living crisis is hitting the people of Birmingham hard and they need help now, so this is a very welcome move to cut water bills in a time of crisis. We've been in talks with Severn Trent to get help to those in greatest need and this announcement will make a huge difference to thousands of households currently struggling to make ends meet."
These customer comments were received in May 2022 about the Big Difference Scheme, which is being extended today:
“Applying for the scheme was really easy and the discount helped make my water charges more affordable.”
“I was really struggling to pay my water charges before I applied for the Big Difference Scheme. I was over the moon when I received my new bill showing the discount.”
“I lost my job last year and I’ve struggled since claiming Universal Credit. The Big Difference Scheme has allowed me to pay my water charges on an affordable payment plan.”
Severn Trent’s pledge builds on the work it is already doing to support the region, including a commitment to provide 100,000 hours of free employability training across the Midlands.
The company recently launched a new training academy for employees and its communities as part of a £10 million investment into learning and development. This comes in addition to a further £10 million it is donating up until 2025 through its Community Fund, supporting local charities and community groups. Last year, the fund donated £2 million on 73 different projects.
Severn Trent is also investing £566 million as part of an ambitious Green Recovery programme to support the UK’s green economic bounce back from the pandemic and create 2,500 new jobs in the Midlands.
Severn Trent customer support schemes include:
· The Big Difference Scheme can offer a reduction of water bills to any Severn Trent customer with a household income below £16,385 – this is the scheme that is being extended today to a further 100,000 people
· Severn Trent Trust Fund – Customers who are unable to meet the cost of water charges and who live in the Severn Trent area can apply for help directly and to organisations that work in the area of debt advice. To date, the fund has supported more than 627,500 customers
· WaterSure is a scheme for Severn Trent customers that cap customer bills at the average yearly charge
· Priority Services Register is available to Severn Trent customers if they feel they would benefit from a more personalised service. The register helps identify customers with medical conditions, disability or restricted mobility, sight or hearing loss and those who would appreciate receiving their bills in a different format