United Utilities' Priority Services scheme, which launches this week (w/c May 23), provides help in managing debt; support for customers facing mental health issues or struggling with ‘life events’ such as floods, job loss or bereavement; and services for customers who have physical disabilities.
Research by the water company found that thousands of customers facing debt or other challenges are often unaware of the help their utility company can provide.
The free scheme includes tailored payment plans to avoid or overcome debt; large print, braille or ‘talking' bills; a nominee scheme which allows a carer, family member or friend to manage a water account on someone’s behalf; translation services and additional support for vulnerable customers during interruptions to water supply.
A specialist call handling team, trained by organisations including Mind, Samaritans, SkillsGen and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, will support those who register for the scheme.
MPs from across the North West, including Rory Stewart, Tim Farron, Jamie Reed, Sue Hayman, David Nuttall, Jeff Smith, Rosie Cooper, Seema Kennedy and Paul Maynard, have pledged their support for the scheme.
Rory Stewart, who worked with United Utilities as Floods Minister in the aftermath of Storm Desmond and is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs said: “I fully back this new scheme, since customers are often unaware of the support schemes their utility provider can offer. Assistance is often stumbled upon, rather than actively sought out, and many customers who are in difficulty avoid making contact because of what they anticipate may be a stressful, confrontational encounter.
“Having worked closely with United Utilities during Storm Desmond and its aftermath, I am extremely keen that constituents and Cumbrians are well aware of the very many support systems that are in place, which I encourage them to take advantage of, and applaud United Utilities for taking this proactive approach. I am especially pleased to see that the service will be tailored to those who have disabilities, which is a very necessary and welcome thing."
Louise Beardmore, United Utilities’ customer services director said: “We know that many thousands of customers in the North West face multiple challenges, but are hesitant to ask for help, or are simply unaware that support is out there.
“By registering for Priority Services, customers will have access to a specialist team who can provide tailored support for as long as it’s needed. Whether a customer is in debt, struggling to cope with an unexpected life event, or has specific mental or physical health needs, we can help.
“We will be promoting the service to customers across the region, and working with partner organisations to spread the word and break down barriers.”
Customers can register for United Utilities’ Priority Services scheme at unitedutilities.com/priorityservices, by calling 0345 072 6093 or by filling in a postal form. Family members, carers or friends can register on a customer’s behalf.