65% of UK consumers want more transparency in water company expenditure

Almost two-thirds (65%) of UK consumers are calling out for greater transparency in how bill payments are spent by water suppliers, according to new research.

The figures have been highlighted in The Secrets of Better Billing, a study commissioned by utility billing software business Echo Managed Services, creator of Aptumo and RapidXtra.

The new research report has examined consumer attitudes to and experiences of UK water bills and billing processes, and the prevalence of good and bad practice

The nationally representative survey of 1,000 UK households looked at how consumers feel about the water bills they are presented with and found significant interest amongst the public to understand more about where bill money goes – and how water companies spend it.

Curiosity was cited as the main reason and the wish to better understand why their bills were particularly high or why they had increased since the previous year.

Others stated mistrust of the sector and the companies that operate within it. Echo described this as “unsurprising given recent headlines around water company profits and shareholder dividends.”

Water conservation was also a key area for concern, with consumers keen to receive more information about the actions taken by suppliers to cut down on leakage and wastage.

Amongst the remaining 35% – those that didn’t want to see how their bills are spent – a theme of apathy emerged, alongside a belief that, even if they were aware of the figures, it wouldn’t bring about any meaningful change.

The disengagement highlights the lack of “emotion” that many consumers feel about a supplier they have no control over, Echo said.

Digital billing uptake amongst customers still lags behind

The findings also show that digital billing uptake amongst customers still lags behind. Conventional paper billing is still prominent in the UK water sector, with over half (55%) of customers receiving statements in this way. Digital billing via email (25%) and online supplier portals (20%) are still relatively low in comparison to other essential services sectors such as energy, where digitisation of billing is more commonplace.

The report says:

“Incentives such as e-billing tariff reductions, together with higher engagement levels as a result of switching, may have driven more customers to choose e-billing in the energy sector. Water companies don’t incentivise e-billing in the same way and, for many customers, the infrequency of contact with their supplier may mean it’s not even on the radar.”

Andy Mack, software services director at Echo Managed Services, commented:

“These findings clearly highlight that many consumers want their water suppliers to go beyond simply providing an essential service. They want them to be more responsible, ethical and to “do the right thing”, and to be more open in sharing information with them.”

“Ofwat’s emerging future strategy highlights that water companies ‘have and are continuing to take steps to restore the public’s trust’, and greater transparency is crucial in this journey. But, given that many consumers admit they don’t read their bill – or simply scan it – the customer bill on its own may not be the most effective way to share this type of information.”

“Water companies should continue to look to positively interact with customers in different ways; engaging with the communities they serve and showing that they are more than a faceless organisation.”