Speak to your water company when you realise you can’t pay your bill. If you work out what you can pay and agree this with them, it will avoid you having the stress and expense of going to court and being charged extra costs. It will also mean that your credit rating isn’t affected.Get advice now
Payments for current water charges are usually made in eight to ten installments. When offering payments for arrears you can make an agreement for the client to pay these weekly or monthly.
Although the debt is recognised as a non-priority one, in that the only recovery action is via the county court, a realistic monthly/weekly amount of amount of money should be included in the financial statement to ensure ongoing charges are met and arrears do not increase.
Many water supplies have access to grants and or schemes which can write off amounts of debt if the client makes regular payments to the arrears.
Due to funds being limited, this could mean that these funds are not available to everyone and the suppliers have to make the difficult decision about who it can help! These sorts of funds prioritise help to applicants where there is evidence that a one off award will make a difference and help the applicant towards being financially stable.
Since June 1999 water companies no longer have the power to disconnect for arrears or domestic water charges, therefore is a non-priority debt, but the realistic cost of current water charges must be in the financial statement to avoid ongoing enforcement action.
An exception to this is that water supply could be withdrawn from solely business premises, where the arrears remain unpaid.
There are various debt solutions to help you. If you choose a debt management plan, water arrears do not need to be prioritised; however you should ensure that you have budgeted for your normal water usage. Any arrears can be listed as one of your unsecured debts and included into your debt solution.
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.
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.
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.
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
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