Water bills are about to get more expensive, what should you do if you're struggling to pay?

The average household can expect to pay on £27.40 a year more on their water bill, ITV News' Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports

The average water bill in England and Wales will increase to £473 a year from April 1, up 6%, industry bodies have confirmed.

The average household can expect to pay on £27.40 a year more on their water bill, equivalent to about £2.30 a month, regulator Ofwat forecasted.

Wessex Water and Anglian Water customers will see the biggest rise, with average bills to increase to £548 and £529 respectively, while Northumbrian customers will see the lowest average bills of £422.

These increases will further squeeze stretched households. What should you do if you cannot afford to pay your water bill?

Speak to your provider

This should be the first port of call if you are struggling to keep up with payments, as water companies are often able to adapt your payment plan and provide advice on how to keep costs down.

There are schemes in place to help people with their water bills, including WaterSure. This scheme is available to anybody on benefits and those who use a lot of water for medical reasons or because the household has three or more school-age children in full-time education.

Most providers also have other schemes in place to support people who are struggling to afford their water bills.

For example, Thames Water can provide a 50% discount on water bills if your annual household income is less than £21,740, or place an annual cap on costs, while Severn Trent can offer up to 70% off water bills if you earn less than £20,048 a year.

You should get in contact with your local water provider to find out what programmes might be in place to help. You can find out who supplies your water on the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) website.

Consider a water meter

In England and Wales you are billed for water either through companies estimating how much water you use based on the size of the property, or by paying for the exact amount you use, measured by a water meter.

All homes built since 1990 should have a water meter, and if not you can get one installed for free.

The CCW has an online tool you can use to calculate whether you would benefit from having a water meter installed, and your water company should also be able to let you know whether it is worth getting a meter.

In Scotland water bills are based on council tax bands, while there are no domestic charges for water in Northern Ireland.

What if you stop paying?

It is always best to speak to your provider if you are having trouble paying your bills to negotiate an alternative payment plan than knowingly not paying for your water.

If you do leave a water bill unpaid, your provider will send one or more reminder notices, with a final notice giving you seven days to pay.

The company may phone you to ask for payment, or they could pass your debt onto a debt recovery agent.

As a last resort a company may take you to court to recover the money owed. This could then lead to bailiff action in the most extreme cases.

Can your water be cut off?

Companies cannot legally disconnect or restrict the water supply to your home, even if you owe them money.

The rules can vary for business water supplies.

Getting help

One in eight people borrowed money to make ends meet in the past year, according to debt help charity StepChange, with almost a quarter rationing heating, electricity or water to meet credit repayments.

The charity provides the following advice for anybody who is struggling with debt:

  • Firstly, if you’re behind on your bills, talk to your creditors - if they don’t know you’re struggling they won’t be able to help. You might be able to negotiate a payment plan with your bank or take advantage of a grant that can pay off some or all of a utility bill.

  • It’s important to make sure you are getting all the help you are entitled to. StepChange’s benefits calculator is a really good place to start in helping you easily identify any benefits you can claim to help increase your income and improve your situation.

  • Put together a budget to see where your money is going and understand what bills are the most important. This will help you take control of your finances and see where savings might be possible. Visit StepChange’s website for a step-by-step guide on putting together a budget.

  • Think about the priority of each of your debts. StepChange can help you with this. The priority should always be to pay your most important bills first (like housing costs). Then try to meet the minimum payment on every debt you have each month, to avoid default charges and the effect on your credit rating. After that, you should pay most towards the highest-cost borrowing – that’s the debt on which you’ll have to pay most interest and charges. If you don’t have enough to cover all this, that’s a clear indicator that you could benefit from debt advice.

  • Try to avoid temptation from short-term loans, sales, and online marketing for credit such as options to Buy Now, Pay Later. Taking out credit might seem like a quick and convenient way to get money fast, but it’s important to stop and think about the consequences of borrowing, and whether this may worsen your financial situation later on. Before you do borrow, think about whether you will be able to make repayments including interest.

  • StepChange urges anyone worried about the rising cost of living to explore the support available – the charity’s cost of living hub is a useful starting point. If you’re feeling stressed about your finances, help is available. StepChange can offer free, impartial and confidential debt advice both online and over the phone

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