We’ve been able to help many customers get back on their feet with flexible payment arrangements or payment breaks. Our Payment Break scheme was used by over 8,000 customers during the early stages of the pandemic. We also donated £3.5 million into our Trust Fund to support financially vulnerable customers.
We had regulatory approval to extend our social tariff to help even more customers impacted by COVID-19, and, as such, we are currently providing financial assistance to more than 200,000 customers – a significant increase on the previous year. Through our Payment Matching scheme, another 15,000 customers became water debt free in 2020/21.
Our Lowest Bill Guarantee scheme was rolled out in September after a successful pilot to ensure customers who choose to have a meter fitted will not pay more than their current charge method. Customers have saved over £4.6 million as a result.
Since creating the North West Utilities Together group at the start of 2020 with Electricity North West, Cadent and Northern Gas Networks, we have been regularly meeting to discuss ways to help those customers in vulnerable circumstances.
As part of this, we have once again joined with Electricity North West in the promotion of our Priority Services registers on paper medicine bags in over 200 pharmacies across our region, and have worked with Electricity North West and Cadent to jointly fund a £50,000 refurbishment of a mobile advice centre for Age Concern Central Lancashire.
The charity launched this new community outreach service in March 2021, one year on from the first national lockdown, in a bid to reach those in need. The mobile advice centre, which is specially designed to be dementia friendly, will offer support and help promote our services to customers in and around the Lancashire area. The three utility companies involved in the collaboration will be giving residents free advice on water and energy efficiency, as well as tips on how to stay safe and warm in their homes.
Suzanne Carr, CEO of Age Concern Central Lancashire, praised the project: “...we are delighted to have formed partnerships with the North West's big three utility companies which in turn means our customers will have access to a full suite of services, and most importantly, will be able to access one-to-one support on a range of important matters from independent living through to seeking help during an energy crisis.”