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Most of us pay water bills, but what happens if you miss a payment?

If you’re in arrears with your water supplier, you still have a few options to make arrangements to pay.

There are several possible ways to pay your water bill:

Water Arrears

If you have water arrears the water company cannot disconnect your domestic supply – however they can take you to the county court to recover the money.

Check which steps the company has already taken against you to recover arrears. Some of the water companies have internal hardship funds, which can be used to help pay water arrears, and some fund independent charitable trusts, which may be able to help you with your water arrears and other bills.

Ask your water company if they operate any such schemes and ask them how to apply. Each water company has a code of practice, which outlines how they should treat you when negotiating arrears payments. It can be helpful to ask the water company for a copy of their code of practice.

Tenants

If you are a local authority tenant (renting through the council or housing association) and you do not pay the water charge element within your rent there may be a risk that the local authority will take steps to evict you because of rent arrears.

However, there has not yet been a case where the court has granted a possession order for water charge arrears alone. Private tenants cannot be disconnected if their landlord is responsible and has not paid the bill. Many water authorities operate Charitable Trusts and you may qualify for help in paying off the water bill.

Water charges are based upon the value of the property – you may be able to challenge the value in an attempt to reduce your bill. Single occupiers may find a water meter dramatically reduces the bill, but seek advice.

Recovery of Water Arrears

Once you are in arrears with your payments you will be sent either a “reminder” or a “final notice”, which gives you seven days to pay.

If you still do not pay you may receive another letter warning you of pending court action and you will incur further costs.

If you still do not make arrangements for payment, the water company can start court action against you after the seven-day letter has expired. The water company will claim for any unpaid charges and costs incurred in recovering the debt.

If you are paying off arrears on your water bill and you receive another bill, the water company must follow the same procedure to recover any arrears on the second bill. Check that the bill is correct and that you are responsible for the arrears.

Making Arrangements to Repay Arrears

Contact the company, initially by telephone and then follow it up with a letter offering an appropriate repayment arrangement for your arrears (best to send via Recorded Delivery so that you have proof they received the letter). If court action is imminent contact the company immediately with an offer of payment.

If you are not disputing liability for the amount of the arrears (you are admitting that you owe the money), you should draw up a personal budget to work out what you can afford to pay towards the arrears. You can then make an offer of payment, on top of your ongoing usage. If you have a water meter, the company will usually estimate your current bill on the previous year’s bill. If you think this is inaccurate because of change of circumstances, you should negotiate an alternative figure.

If you receive income support or other income based benefit/allowance and have water arrears you may be able to have the DWP make direct payments from your benefit to the water company.

Complaints

If you have a complaint to make about a water company you should initially take it up with the company directly. All companies have a complaints procedure, which is set out in their code of practice. If you are not satisfied with the response you can refer the matter to the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater). CCWater is an independent statutory consumer body, representing water customers in England and Wales.

Send your complaint by writing or by email, enclosing the company’s reply and any other relevant information. CCWater will investigate the matter for you and will inform you of the outcome, if the company is found to be at fault they will be asked to remedy the matter.

The address is:

The Consumer Council for Water, 
First Floor Victoria Square House
Victoria Square
Birmingham
B2 4AJ

Tel: 0121 345 1000
local rate: 0845 039 2837
Fax: 0121 345 1001
email: enquiries@ccwater.org.uk
Web: www.ccwater.org.uk

For immediate and free debt advice please call Payplan free on 0800 280 2816 or use our Debt Help Form to submit your debt problem online.

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