Can your water be cut off if you cannot afford to pay your bill? We discuss the details of water bills and what water companies cannot do, even when you have water arrears.
Read on to get clear answers to the most asked questions from customers with water utility debts.
Who is liable for a water bill?
The person liable to pay the water company is the homeowner if the homeowner is living in the property. Rented properties are different; the tenant or the landlord may be responsible for paying water bills depending on what is stated in the tenancy agreement.
If the water is being supplied to a business premises, the business is liable to pay.
Can you get away with not paying your water bill?
If you do not pay the water company what you owe for your domestic water usage, they can chase you for payment, possibly even taking you to court. In this regard, customers cannot get away without paying for their water service.
Can water companies turn off my water?
Even if you have water arrears, the water company cannot turn your domestic water supply off. Having access to water is classed as a human right because we need water to survive. For this reason, no company can disconnect your water, even when you haven’t paid your bills.
Providers can turn off a supply to a business premises when the business is in arrears.
What happens if you don’t pay a water bill?
Although the company will not disconnect your water, they can chase you for the money. The process typically follows these stages:
You will receive a letter from the company at your home address, stating that you have not paid your bill or were not able to collect the money using direct debit.
If you receive this letter, make a payment or contact them on the phone number included in the letter to discuss your options.
- Final reminder
If you ignore the first letter, they can send a final notice to your address giving you seven days to pay. Failing to pay or communicate with their customer service team about your financial situation will result in further action.
- Telephone calls
At the same time as the previous two stages, you may receive calls from their customer service team to discuss the debt on your account. These people may be able to help you spread the cost of your debt or enquire to see if you qualify for any schemes.
If you know you can’t afford to clear your bill, you should start a conversation with the water company early.
Most of these providers can tell you about a number of schemes to help spread the cost of their bills. WaterSure is one scheme readily available for people who receive benefits.
Another solution is to install a water meter in your home, so you only pay for what you use, rather than fixed amounts which can cost more. Most properties can have a meter installed, but the meter may not be allowed to be uninstalled in the future.
- Debt collection agencies
Water companies tend to pass the responsibility of chasing you for the debt to a debt collection agency. These people will contact you multiple times asking for a payment, but they are not bailiffs and should never imply they have the same powers.
If you agree to a repayment arrangement with the debt collection agency, they will probably take a fee from it, meaning it’s best to agree on a repayment arrangement directly with the water provider before it escalates to this stage.
- County Court Judgment (CCJ)
If you have avoided making any payments towards the debt, the water company may try to recover the arrears using the courts. They can apply to a judge and ask for a CCJ to be issued, which is a legal decision that makes you responsible to pay.
If the CCJ has been issued, you will have the opportunity to offer payments to clear the arrears based on your income.
If this is not an option, the water supplier may be able to recover payments from any DWP benefits you receive, such as income support.
Or they may use another method to enforce the debt…
Can my water company send bailiffs?
Water companies can employ registered bailiffs to come to your address and enforce the debt after a CCJ has been issued. The bailiffs will give you further opportunities to pay – possibly using a repayment plan secured against your assets – or they may take control of your goods and sell them to pay back the supplier.
Note, there are related bailiff costs you will have to pay at this stage, which can be hundreds of pounds.
If your arrears were worth more than £600, they will be dealt with by the High Court using High Court enforcement officers. This is because water debts are not covered by the Consumer Credit Act.
These bailiffs are usually quicker and can charge you more for their work. The courts may even add statutory interest to your debt.
How far back can a water company bill me?
Water suppliers can send you a backdated bill within the last six years. However, if the reason for the delayed bill is their fault, you may be able to call them and negotiate. You may want to claim that it is unreasonable for you to pay these arrears, and they might reduce the amount you owe.
What to do if you can’t pay a water bill
If you can’t cover your water bills, always call the supplier and explain your financial situation. They could offer a payment plan so you contribute towards your bill and any previous arrears accumulated. They could provide you with additional tips and hints to reduce your water consumption to save money in the future.
You may want to get help and advice from a charity like Step Change or National Debtline. They can help you manage your finances to avoid future debts, and they can help assess you to see if you qualify for schemes and financial support.
Check out our debt charity page and give one of the reputable organisations a call, soon!
Can I get water company debt written off?
In limited situations, it may be possible to have your water debts written off. These include:
- Written off by the supplier
- Written off through the Statutory Barred law after six years (technically it becomes unenforceable but you can then ask for it to be written off)
- Written off through a debt solution
One example of a debt solution that could write off your water debts eventually is a Debt Relief Order (DRO). To qualify for a DRO you must not own a home or valuable assets and your total debts must be valued below £20,000. Moreover, you must only have £50 or less disposable income each month. It’s commonly used by people receiving benefits.
Phone a debt charity registered in England and Wales for more information, or read our DRO guide here!
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Use them for all your debt enquiries, including letters you receive, legal action taken against you – and for advice dealing with bailiffs.
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