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Liz Cotton, Research Project Manager, Consumer Council for Water

Case Studies

Client Issue
Consumer Council for Water Water Poverty

The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) represents the interests of consumers in the water industry in England and Wales. CCWater wished to develop their understanding of what it is like for vulnerable consumers to be living with water poverty.  Vulnerable households are those on low incomes and particularly those containing children, older people, people with disabilities or long term illnesses and BAME people, especially households with non-English speakers.  Households are said to be ‘living in water poverty’ if they spend more than 3% of their disposable income on their water and sewerage bills.

The research was based on 42 in-depth interviews with individuals or couples at different lifestages from vulnerable households who met the definition of living in water poverty.  Respondents were drawn from rural and urban locations in England and Wales where they were supplied by a number of different water companies. Just under a third of the sample lived in a property with a metered water supply.

Across the sample, respondents varied greatly in terms of their circumstances, levels of water (and fuel) poverty, debt and attitudes.  We developed a typology based on a combination of the extent to which people are struggling to pay their bills and their level of money management skills.  In terms of meeting bill payments the typology divided into those who were ‘making ends meet’, those who were ‘struggling to stay out of debt’ and those who were ‘in arrears’. We also classified respondents as ‘good’, ‘medium’ and ‘poor’ money managers.

A range of negative emotions were experienced by respondents as a result of struggling to meet outgoings or being in arrears, regardless of how well they were coping.  These included powerlessness, feeling worn down, hopelessness, anger and guilt and were particularly acute for those who managed their finances chaotically and were constantly fire-fighting.  Respondents adopted various tactics to cope with financial shortfalls.  Those ‘making ends meet’ made cut backs  and fell back on what they already had, those who were ‘struggling’ returned to the basics, while those ‘in arrears’ regularly traded off the basics (including essential items such as food).

The research also explored respondent experiences of dealing with suppliers in relation to arrears or difficulties in meeting payments as well as their views on how these experiences could be improved.

Everyone supported reduced tariffs or more manageable ways of paying for their water but awareness of schemes intended to help people struggling to pay their water bill was very low.

The research has helped CCWater to improve their understanding of what it is like to live in water poverty as well as to inform their response to the Walker review of charging and metering for water and sewerage services.

Living with Water Poverty (3333.12Kb)

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