New tech gives NW households faster access to help with water bills

Householders in the North West are the first in the UK to be offered the option of a new technology to get quicker and easier access to water bill support schemes.

United Utilities is piloting a scheme that gives its customers the option to have financial support approved there and then, using open banking, instead of the usual, lengthy paperwork exchange process.

Open banking allows people to securely share some bank account data while they are already on the phone to an advisor and was introduced after talks between the water company and local money advice experts.

In a pilot project, more than 94 per cent of those who tried the service said they would use it again and recommend it to family and friends. United Utilities is now planning to offer the service to even more people.

The tech, powered by Equifax UK, uses app-to-app authentication with anti-fraud protection. Not only does it help speed up the process, it also frees up more time for United Utilities’ advisors to support customers and make sure they’re getting all the help that’s available to them.

United Utilities’ affordability and data share manager, Chris Lea, said: “The real benefit for customers is in saving fuss during the affordability assessment. Often they don’t have the information we need to hand and we can talk through the steps to set up an Open Banking account while they’re on the phone. Not everyone wants to do it, but in a survey, those that did were really positive about it.”

According to OFWAT2 as many as three million people in the UK struggle to pay their water bills.

With 59 of the 100 most deprived neighbourhoods in the country being in the North West, United Utilities has one of the most extensive range of support schemes available for customers struggling to pay and has pledged to lift 315,000 people out of water poverty by 2025 through a combination of overall bill reductions and targeted financial support.

United Utilities has supported an additional 45,000 customers during COVID-19 who were furloughed, claiming SEISS or are now unemployed, reducing their water bill to an affordable amount.