Water companies in England and Wales have put a halt on payments to help customers who have lost their jobs or had their incomes cut during the coronavirus pandemic.
The move comes after one in 20 Britons said they had lost their job due to the crisis, according to a new survey by YouGov.
Some 5% of the 3,000 people questioned were employed before the outbreak and have since lost their job, while 9% have had their pay or hours reduced.
The water companies are encouraging households suffering from immediate or short-term issues with paying their bills to get in contact so they can receive help.
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Some of the initiatives started by companies include actively offering payment breaks, adjusting payment plans urgently to help with sudden changes in household finances and simplifying the processes for customers to get extra assistance.
Customers will also get advice on benefits and managing debts, particularly for customers who have not been in financial difficulties before.
In addition, water companies are seeking out customers who may have trouble paying due to being unable to leave their house.
Alternative payment methods as well as additional support are being made available for customers in this situation.
Water companies will also stop new court applications on unpaid bills during the current restrictions, and will stop any enforcement visits.
Water UK chief executive Christine McGourty said: “We know that it’s an extremely difficult time for everyone at the moment, and the last thing we’d want is for anyone to worry about how they’ll pay their water bill.
“If you’re struggling to pay your bill, or you’re worried you might struggle in the future, please approach your water company for help. There are lots of ways that they can support you, and all you need to do is reach out and get in touch with them.”
She added: “If you or any of your family or friends need a little extra help due to particular health issues, please make sure you’re signed up to your local water company’s Priority Services Register.”
Tony Smith, chief executive of water consumer group CCW, said the company is “really pleased” that water companies are showing a willingness to be flexible.
He added: “It’s really important that customers who are struggling in any way don’t wait to be asked and actively reach out for support, whether that’s help paying a bill or getting other practical assistance.”