We promise to give you value for money

Our region has one of the highest concentrations of economically-deprived households in the UK, many of whom are suffering as the economic downturn continues to bite.

Meanwhile, the impact of the Government’s new welfare reform legislation is only just starting to be felt by 800,000 North West residents who claim benefits.

To minimise the impact of customers’ bills on household budgets, now and in the future, we will balance the need for investment with the ability of our customers to pay, while ensuring we also meet environmental legislation.

We will continue to find ways to support the most financially-disadvantaged people in our region, so that nobody is forced to suffer the stress and indignity of water poverty.

What customers and stakeholders have told us

Recent conversations with our customers and stakeholders have underlined the far-reaching impact of the economic downturn, as incomes are squeezed and keeping down costs is a key factor in household budgets.

Feedback included:

  • Value for money is ‘very’ or ‘quite’ important for nine out of ten of respondents
  • Customers feel we could do more to help them get value for money from their water service, and explain in clearer terms what their bills are paying for
  • Stakeholders and regulators believe we can do more to relieve the social and economic pressures which affect North West households
  • Customers and stakeholders want reassurance that their money is being invested wisely in projects which will benefit the region in the future
  • They need to tell us what value-for-money we are getting and be more transparent with the costs and charges.

    Customer

What we’ll achieve

Fair bills

We’ll ensure our bills are fair, by striking the right balance between the service we provide, and the amount we charge. We’ll make sustainable investment decisions and be as efficient as possible in how we spend our bill payers’ money. Water meters will be offered to customers who stand to benefit financially from them.

Support for those who struggle to pay

We’ll support those customers who find it difficult to pay their bills by providing a range of payment support programmes, tailored to specific needs, and specialist staff to provide the best possible advice.

Work with others to benefit the North West and its economy

We’ll play our part to support the North West’s economy by using local suppliers, offering graduate and apprenticeship schemes and working with communities to avoid disruption to local commerce when we carry out work. We’ll also work in partnership with organisations in the North West to maximise shared value and benefits. This provides alternative solutions to water and wastewater services.

Our proposals for the next 25 years:

Key
Service improvement
Maintaining service

We will keep bills affordable, both now and in the future, by making the right decisions on behalf of our customers.

We will make sure that households have access to information about reducing their bill and that businesses are on the right tariff to suit their needs. This might be by installing a water meter for free in order to bring down bills or provide advice on ways to manage water usage.

Where customers are struggling to pay their bill due to genuine hardship, we will offer financial help and tailored support to help them get back on track.

Our focus will be on:

Making balanced decisions

Our future plans for the region’s water and wastewater services need to be carefully balanced against our customers’ ability to pay – so that we strike the most viable balance. We will look for the best long-term solutions, to ensure we are avoiding risks wherever possible or storing up potential costs for future years and not passing costs onto future generations.

Operating efficiently

We will operate our business as efficiently as possible whilst maintaining or improving our services. A large proportion of our expenditure comes from the cost of energy and chemicals to treat water and wastewater. These markets are broadly outside of our control, so we are already doing more to generate our own energy and use new technology to reduce our operating costs. We’ll continue to improve our efficiency to deliver services at an affordable price for current and future generations.

Raising money efficiently

Customers’ water bills alone are not enough to pay for the improvements that the region’s water and wastewater service requires. Money from borrowing and from shareholders is also essential. To ensure that we can raise this capital efficiently, we need to maintain a sound credit rating and make sure that our shareholders receive a fair return for their financial commitment.

In the years ahead, we will continue to actively manage our financing costs to allow us to strike the right balance between affordable customer bills and an attractive rate of return for shareholders and investors.

Providing clear information about what our customers pay for

We will be clear about our charges, so that customers know exactly what they are paying for. The average water bill pays for the cost of providing water and wastewater services and covers: customer service, the day to day cost of operating the network, investment both in assets and infrastructure for the future and the financing required to deliver our plan.

Helping customers save water and save money

We will continue to offer free water meters to our customers, to help them save water in their homes and businesses and bring down their bills. Research suggests some customers could save on average £230 per year by having a water meter installed. We have estimated that we will install more than three million free water meters between now and 2040.

Supporting those who are struggling to pay

We will continue to provide customers in financial need with a range of payment options and carefully targeted help and support.

Such support includes us continuing to:

  • Develop improvements to our existing arrears allowance scheme, which helps customers to clear their debts. More than 19,000 customers are using our current scheme.
  • Proactively manage the accounts of those customers who are either struggling to pay, or simply refuse to pay
  • Research and trial new support packages, such as a social tariff, which is explained below
  • Develop relationships with charities and organisations, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, to offer additional support to our customers.

We propose to continue The United Utilities Trust Fund, an independent registered charity which helps to clear the debts of those in severe financial hardship and provide these customers with a fresh start to their payment regime.

Supporting our customers on the lowest incomes

We are continuing our trial of a scheme in East Lancashire and the Fylde coast where participants have their water charges directly linked to the level of their household income, ensuring their bill is always affordable. The trial has now also been extended to areas of Liverpool.

We're also working with a number of social landlords across the whole of the north west region, who collect water bill payments directly from their tenants. This is an effective way of working with partners in the North West to help our customers with water bill affordability.

We have also recently introduced a social tariff scheme, after consulting with customers and stakeholders for their views. This social tariff is part of our wider package of support, allowing us to reduce charges for those who have difficulty paying their bill. Our customer research ensured our approach in this area is supported by our customer’s priorities.

A trusted partner

Contributing towards the local economy is a vital part of our role as a major North West employer. We’ll continue to use local suppliers wherever possible and offer graduate and apprenticeship schemes. In the future, we are keen to work even more closely with communities to avoid disruption to local commerce when we have to carry out work. We’ll also explore more partnerships with organisations or charities in the North West to help us come up with alternative solutions to water and wastewater problems by sharing knowledge and resources.