Helping customers in vulnerable circumstances
The North West has one of the largest populations of economically deprived households in the country. There is often a link between customers with affordability issues and those in vulnerable circumstances. Factors such as ill-health, unemployment or bereavement make it more difficult to manage finances. We want to do our part to help customers during these difficult times by having the necessary support mechanisms in place.
To help us understand more about the challenges customers face, we decided to bring together organisations from across our region who deal with customers in challenging circumstances, to discuss what more could be done to support those struggling to make ends meet. If customers are finding it hard to pay their water bills, they are likely to be having difficulty paying most of their household bills, so this is a collective challenge to see what more we could all be doing to help and support people.
Our first ever affordability summit brought together more than 100 stakeholders from across the North West to stimulate new ideas and share best practice.
The event, held at Liverpool St. George's Hall, was opened by the Rt. Hon Angela Eagle MP, who represents the constituency of Wallasey, and attended by Lord John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue and now a cross-bencher in the House of Lords, charities, foodbanks, Citizens Advice Bureau, StepChange, Department for Work and Pensions, Credit Unions, debt agencies, housing associations, local councils and other utilities and financial service companies.
Some very clear themes emerged from the summit, which have now been developed into five key areas of action. Progress is tracked and reported every eight weeks, and the results will be shared at our next affordability summit in January 2019.
New financial support schemes launched
On the same day we also launched two new financial support schemes. Our Payment Plus scheme is for customers who are behind with their water bill payments. For every pound they pay off towards their outstanding debt, we will pay a pound too. After six months, we will increase our contribution to two pounds, and after two years any debt that remains will be written off.
In response to the roll-out of Universal Credit, we introduced a chance for customers to suspend or delay their payments for up to eight weeks.
We already offer a wide range of financial assistance schemes to support our most vulnerable customers, but we are continuing to challenge ourselves to improve the scale and effectiveness of the support we offer. Coming together with others who can likewise support customers and encourage them to access the help available is important for getting people out of poverty and back on track.
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