Rory Stewart MP has gone on record to support a new Priority Services scheme for struggling water customers being launched by United Utilies in the week of May 23rd. The programme is designed to help customers in managing debt; support customers facing mental health issues or struggling with ‘life events’ such as divorce, job loss or bereavement; and will offer services for customers with physical disabilities.
Tailored payment plans to help avoid or overcome debt, large print, braille or ‘talking bills, and a nominee scheme which allows a carer, family member or friend to manage a water account on someone’s behalf, as well as translation services and additional support for vulnerable customers during interruptions to water supply, will all be provided. Support will be provided by a specialist call handling team, trained by organisations including Mind, the Samaritans, SkillsGen and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.
Rory Stewart, who worked closely with United Utilities as Floods Minister during the devastating effects of Storm Desmond, is supporting the scheme, saying: “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 difficult 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.”