Many households in the UK find themselves in financial stress, leaving them sometimes unable to pay basic bills. To support financially stressed customers, a number of water utilities have set up schemes that provide emergency relief. To evaluate the Social Return on Investment of three such schemes, Auriga Services, Severn Trent Trust Fund, United Utilities Trust Fund and Thames Water Trust Fund have commissioned Ecorys to assess the individual schemes.
Up to a third of the UK views themselves as financially vulnerable, with 20% stating they aer unable to afford an unexpected £300 bill. The sustained financial stress of many UK households is largely the consequence of stagnant / falling real wages (private sector wages are down 10% since 2008) and austerity cuts in public services, armong others. The UK’s decision to leave the EU is not, in the short term, projected to significantly improve the situation for the poorest in UK's society – consumer confidence is sliding down.
Schemes to support financially vulnerable members of society are being set up by a range of utility providers as the reality of the need, and the lack of available means, has resulted in more and more people falling behind on their basic bills.
To support people in financial hardship pay their water bills, a number of trusts and foundations have been erected, including the Severn Trent Trust Fund, United Utilities Trust Fund, Thames Water Trust Fund and Thames Water Customer Assistance Fund. These funds aim to support families struggling with unmanageable debt or financial strain with grants for their water costs, as well as possible additional assistance to cover essential household goods if it will make a significant impact.
In a bid to better understand the impact these schemes are having on the people they are aimed to support, Auriga Services*, Severn Trent Trust Fund, United Utilities Trust Fund and Thames Water Trust Fund have commissioned Ecorys UK to evaluate the impact of three of the schemes.
The first scheme to be evaluated is Severn Trent Water’s ‘BIG Difference Scheme’, which provides customers facing financial hardship with, among others, a reduction ranging between 10% – 90% off the average yearly charge. The second scheme is run by United Utilities to support customers within its catchment area with paying water and/or sewage bills as well as the possibility for essential goods provisions. The third scheme is Thames Water Trust Fund’s ‘Customer Assistance Fund’ which helps customers who are behind on past bills pay the outstanding amount.
To evaluate the schemes, Ecorys will run a Social Return on Investment (SROI) study on each of the programmes. The SROI will involve an assessment of the economic and social outcomes of the schemes; monetising the value the impact the schemes have on society; and comparing the value of the schemes on society relative to operating costs. As part of the assessment, the firm will run an online survey of beneficiaries as well as consultations with beneficiaries, grant recipients and staff involved in administering the schemes.
* Auriga Services was formed in 2004 to provide clients, mainly large utility companies in the UK, with support services in the assessment of grant applications for hardship schemes. The social enterprise assesses around 40,000 applications for trust and fund grants annually.