With recent reports showing household debt is pushing millions of UK families into the red, we met with organisations who deal with customers in challenging circumstances to discuss what more can be done to support those struggling financially. We believe that a collaborative regional partnership can go way beyond what any one organisation can do alone.
In 2018 and 2019, we held Affordability Summits on 'Blue Monday' in January, which is typically the most financially depressing calendar date of the year. These events were attended by over 100 representatives from across the North West, including debt advice charities, food banks, credit unions and housing associations.
At this year's Affordability Summit, which was held in Manchester and opened by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, we launched the North West financial Hardship Hub. This is a valuable new resource for the money advice community in our region and the first of its kind in the country.
The Hardship Hub is simple to use and has been developed in conjunction with experts including Citizens Advice and housing associations. It has been dubbed a 'TripAdvisor' for financial advice, and advisers can use it to search for all the available help in their local area and can also rate schemes and recommend them to colleagues.
Providing support for customers in vulnerable circumstances is more important than ever and, as a responsible business, we have a duty to continually strive to improve our services in order to help those who need it most.
Some customers need additional support at times. This could be due to age, ill health, disability, mental health problems, financial worries or language barriers. Our Priority Services scheme allows us to respond quickly and considerately to their particular needs. Priority Services free benefits are available to all eligible customers living in the North West.
At present, Priority Services are provided by both water and energy companies across the UK, and from April 2020 a joint water and energy sector project will align all existing Priority Services arrangements in the two sectors so that customers benefit from consistent support without needing to register with each of their utility providers separately.
In 2018 we became the first water company to share consented Priority Services data with the energy sector, and successfully completed a pilot with Electricity North West that tested single registration, as well as the legal and operational principles that support the joint UK project. This successful trial will continue up to commencement of the joint UK project in 2020.
Read more about all the financial assistance we provide at unitedutilities.com/difficulty-paying-bill