This fact sheet covers England & Wales. You will need different advice if you live in Scotland.
This fact sheet tells you the rules that apply to water rates debt and how to deal with it. It also explains how to get help paying the water bill from a trust fund. Use this fact sheet to:
help you deal with a water rates debt;
find out if you can reduce the amount you pay for water;
find out how to complain about a water company; and
find out if a trust fund can support you.
Extra help because of coronavirus
Water companies have agreed to do more to help people who are struggling with their water payments. See our Coronavirus advice for more information.
This does not apply to businesses. If you are trading as a small business, contact Business Debtline on 0800 197 6026.
A water company cannot 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 threatens to disconnect you for being in arrears, complain to the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater). See the Complaints section later in this fact sheet for information on how to do this.
Some water companies threaten to disconnect a property on the basis that they think the property is empty.
Keep in touch with your company, because they may attempt to cut off the water supply if no one has answered their letters for some time. If you have a threat of disconnection to your supply, contact the water company. Make sure they understand that you are still in the property and that they cannot disconnect your water supply.
Water rates arrears
You should carry on including your current water rates in the Your outgoings section of your budget. This is because water is an ongoing bill and an essential expense.
If you pay your water bill monthly, but over less than 12 months, ask your water company to reset your payments over the full 12 months. This will reduce the amount that you have to pay each month.
Some water companies have a special tariff which can reduce the amount of your current water charges. Check with your supplier what types of tariff they offer.
Our self-help pack includes a step-by-step guide to completing your budget and how to negotiate with creditors. Contact us for a copy.
Treat water rates arrears as a non-priority debt if you pay your water rates directly to your water company. You can make an offer of repayment that you can afford using your budget, along with your other credit debts, in the Your non-priority debts section of the budget.
If you are on 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 current water rates and a standard amount towards the arrears. Contact your water company, or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), with details of your most recent water bill to arrange this. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet for more information.
If you do not agree a repayment arrangement, the water company can issue a county court claim to try to make you repay the money you owe. You can reply to the claim and make an offer of payment that you can afford. If your water company refuses your offer, the court will decide what you should pay. For more information, see our Replying to a county court claim fact sheet.
If you need time to get debt advice and find a debt solution, you may want to consider applying for breathing space.
Breathing space will stop most types of enforcement and also stop most creditors applying interest and charges for 60 days.
To find out more, see our Breathing space fact sheet.
Water rates with rent
Some landlords collect payment for water rates in with the rent. If your tenancy agreement includes the payment of water rates as part of your rent, water arrears can count as rent arrears and could lead to court action to repossess your home. If this is the case, treat water rates arrears paid to your landlord as a priority debt. Agree an amount that you can afford to pay to the arrears with your landlord. Contact us for advice.
You can have a water meter put in so that you are only charged for the water you use. It may be cheaper to have a water meter put in if you don’t use much water. You can usually swap back to the non-metered system within 12 months, if you don’t want the water meter because your bills are higher than before.
If you have a water meter and need extra 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 easier to read. You can also ask to have bills in large print or in Braille. Contact your water company for details about the special help they can give.
If you would prefer a water meter, but your supplier tells you that one cannot be fitted, you can ask your water company to be billed for an assessed charge. This may be cheaper than what you usually have to pay because it will be based on the average of what metered customers pay. You can read more about this on CCWater's website www.ccwater.org.uk.
Companies can put in a water meter when a property is sold, or a tenant moves out, or when there is a shortage of water in their area. In these cases, you do not have the right to swap back to a non-metered supply.
WaterSure and WaterSure Wales
You may be able to get help with water bills if you are on a low income through two schemes called WaterSure and WaterSure Wales. WaterSure limits your bill to an amount equal to the average bill that the water company charges its customers. WaterSure Wales caps your bill at a set amount. If you use a lot of water, your bill will go down with either scheme. You can stay on the scheme for a year and, when that comes to an end, you will have to reapply.
To qualify for help under the schemes, you or someone living with you, needs be entitled to receive one of the following benefits or tax credits:
income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance;
Working Tax Credit;
Child Tax Credit (except families in receipt of the family element only);
Pension Credit; or
income-related Employment and Support Allowance.
You will need to give proof of the benefits you are receiving. 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.
You can use the Turn2us benefit calculator to check whether you can get one of these benefits or tax credits. You may also find the grants search tool helpful. Both are also available through CCWater's website www.ccwater.org.
You can get an application form from your water company. The water company's contact details are on your bill, or you can get them from CCWater's website www.ccwater.org.uk.
Claiming WaterSure Wales
You can request, print off and complete an application form by following the link on Welsh Water’s website www.dwrcymru.com. Alternatively, you can ask for an application form by calling Welsh Water on 0800 052 0140.
Making a complaint
If you have a complaint about your water company, you should speak or write to your water company first. The address is on your bill. CCWater has a list of contact details on its website www.ccwater.org.uk. Each water company has a complaint procedure they can send you. Your water company should reply to your complaint within 10 working days.
If you are not happy with the outcome, you can complain to CCWater. They are independent from the water company and will investigate your complaint. You can find the contact details on the CCWater website www.ccwater.org.uk, or phone on 0300 034 2222 (in England) or 0300 034 3333 (in Wales). If you are unhappy about the result of your complaint after CCWater have dealt with it, you can make a complaint to the Water Redress Scheme (WATRS). This scheme is free and gives you an independent decision which the water company has to follow. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.
Water trust funds
Many water companies run charitable trust funds. Some offer help only with water and sewerage debt; others are prepared to help with other priority debts and even bankruptcy fees in certain situations.
Some water companies run ‘restart schemes’. If you take part, you start a regular payment plan and the payments you make are matched by the trust fund. If you keep up with the payments, the rest of your debt may be written off. Contact your water supplier to find out how to apply. You will usually have to fill in a form. You may need an advice agency to help you.
There is a useful booklet listing all the available water and fuel trust funds. This booklet can be found on the Auriga Services website www.aurigaservices.co.uk. If you do not have access to the internet, contact us for a copy.
Department for Work and Pensions on GOV.UK www.gov.uk
The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) Phone: 0300 034 2222 (England) or 0300 034 3333 (Wales) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.ccwater.org.uk
The Water Redress Scheme (WATRS) Phone: 0207 520 3801 Email: email@example.com www.watrs.org