Welsh Water ramps up customer support in COVID-19 response
Written by Gavin on 12th November 2020
- Around 45,000 businesses given payment holidays
- Over 330,000 customers added temporarily to Priority Services Register during the pandemic
- Not-for-profit company also invested £187 million to improve services and protect the environment
Welsh Water has ramped up its support for customers amid the coronavirus pandemic – with thousands of customers receiving extra support over the past six months.
The not-for-profit company now provides financial assistance to over 139,000 customers who need help to pay their bills – more than any other company in England and Wales.
Since April, it also ramped up its support to customers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, temporarily adding over 330,000 customers to its Priority Services Register while arranging flexible payment plans for household customers struggling to pay their water bills. It also temporarily suspended charges to around 45,000 businesses affected by the UK lockdowns.
The increase in support comes as the company reported its half-year financial and operational results, which show that Welsh Water remains in a strong financial position despite the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. The company has invested £187 million during the first half of the year and is on track to finish major investment schemes such as the installation of advanced anaerobic digestors in Five Fords Energy Park, Wrexham, and Cog Moors Wastewater Works in the Vale of Glamorgan, increasing the amount of green energy the company can generate from the waste it treats.
The company, providing water and wastewater services to over three million customers, has played a key role in protecting public health, with operational colleagues maintaining its essential services across Wales, Herefordshire and parts of Deeside.
In response to the pandemic, Welsh Water rapidly expanded its remote working technology to allow its entire contact centre to move to home working in March, and has also started “virtual inspections” to support customers to resolve issues without needing to go to their property. These new ways of working have enabled the company to retain its Top 50 position in the UKCSI measure for customer service – the only utility to make it into the top tier.
Chairman of Glas Cymru Alastair Lyons CBE said: “As a not-for-shareholder business, our central purpose and vision of earning our customers’ trust every day has never been so important, with our colleagues facing their biggest ever challenges to keep services running around the clock for our customers.
“Despite increased restrictions and safeguards to protect staff and customers while we continue to work in our communities, as well as the operational challenges of the prolonged hot, dry period in early summer followed by some extreme rainfall in June, the company has maintained a strong financial and operational position which sets us in good stead for the second half of the year.
“I would like to thank all colleagues for their marvellous work to ensure, despite the challenges of the pandemic, the continuity of our customers’ water and wastewater services, and also our customers for their support as we continue to work out in their communities.”
The company put in place extensive planning and preparation for the anticipated second wave of COVID-19, investing in personal protective equipment for staff, as well as focussing on mental and physical wellbeing of colleagues across the business. It has also launched a strong drive to encourage customers, who may be finding it difficult to pay their water bills, to get in touch to find out what support is available through the social tariffs.
Welsh Water workers have also been working together with researchers from Bangor and Cardiff Universities, and the Welsh Government, to conduct testing at wastewater plants across the areas we serve, to help predict and detect levels of the virus in the community. While there is no evidence that coronavirus is spread via sewage systems, work to detect the presence of the virus in sewage can be a valuable tool in providing an “early warning” of community coronavirus infection levels.
Welsh Water Chief Executive Peter Perry said: “The past 6 months has been the most challenging period we have ever seen as a company. I am very proud of the way we have responded and continue to respond to the many significant challenges we face.
“I am particularly proud that we have been able to offer increased social tariff support for those who need genuine help to pay their bills, a record which leads the industry and is now at the highest level we have ever seen. Frontline colleagues have managed extremely difficult conditions to maintain our services and protect public health and we remain determined to meet these challenges head on.
“The next six months may prove to be just as difficult as the first, particularly as we move into the winter months, but colleagues will continue to do their utmost to meet the high expectations of our customers.”