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Water Corporation helping struggling customers pay their bills

The number of Water Corporation customers having their water shut off as a result of not paying their water bills has reduced by 60% since 2016, according to the Western Australian (WA) utility.

WA Water Minister Dave Kelly said Water Corporation had been working hard to help its customers get back on track with their bills.

“Since March 2017, we have implemented a range of new programs that have proven successful at helping those in need,” Kelly said.

This includes ‘Time Assist’, which lets customers with a consistent payment history who are experiencing short-term hardship put their account on hold for up to three months. The utility also made all payment plans interest free, making the amount of interest owed on overdue accounts the lowest it has been in the past eight years.

According to Water Corporation, higher unemployment rates, mortgage stress and reduced property prices have combined in recent years to increase financial hardship among its customers. In fact, a recent survey revealed 50% of respondents either break even or spend more money than they make most weeks.

In order to understand their financially vulnerable customers, Water Corporation’s customer financial solutions team spoke to hundreds of people who had fallen on hard times and failed to pay their water bills for an extended period.

Customer Financial Solutions Manager Ben McCallum said these interactions influenced Water Corporation’s approach to unpaid bills.

“The process allowed us to gain a greater understanding of the circumstances surrounding why our customers haven’t been paying their bills,” McCallum said.

“We were able to initiate ongoing payment plans that were fair and achievable for the individual customer, but most importantly, we were able to build a rapport that demonstrated our commitment to helping them in their time of need.”

As part of this commitment, Water Corporation has become the first WA organisation to develop a Financial Inclusion Action Plan (FIAP).

The Federal Government tasked Good Shepherd Microfinance with developing the FIAP program in 2015, with the aim of helping the 3.3 million Australians identified as being financially vulnerable. Of this number, more than half are women.

Developing FIAPs is also part of Australia’s commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, with financial inclusion a target in 8 of the 17 goals.

There are already 30 Australian organisations, including City West Water, Wannon Water and Yarra Valley Water, signed on to the FIAP program, and Kelly said getting involved was a logical next step in Water Corporation’s commitment to its customers.

“The development of a FIAP is a natural extension of that commitment and outlines how the utility works to help its customers, employees and the wider WA community,” Kelly said.

“I encourage other organisations to take the time to learn about the FIAP program and, importantly, how they can help their customers get back on their feet and contribute to a financially resilient and inclusive WA.”

Water Corporation’s FIAP program addresses four strategic areas: products and services; capabilities, attitudes and behaviours; awareness and understanding of financial vulnerability; and economic status and participation.

Going forward, the utility will work to strengthen its engagement with customers and provide its staff with training on how best to support those who are struggling financially.