Code of Practice on Payment and Debt Recovery

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1 1 Code of Practice on Payment and Debt Recovery

2 2 In this leaflet we explain our policies if you fall into debt and what you can do to get help and support if you are having problems paying a water bill. We understand that some of our customers may have problems paying all of their household bills. We offer a number of payment plans and other support to help you get back on track with your water bill. Depending on your circumstances, you may be entitled to extra help with your water bill. We will always try to help customers who are trying to pay and we guarantee that we will keep our side of any agreement we make with you. However if you do not keep yours, you risk recovery action being taken against you. By law, we cannot disconnect a domestic customer s water supply for not paying, but we can, and will, take other action to obtain payment. If a court claim is issued it will add to the debt you owe us, as you will have to pay court and solicitors costs. This could affect your ability to obtain credit (see page 11). This code of practice confirms how we will help and what we will do if customers do not pay. Debt helpline Open from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Thursday, 8am to 6pm, Fridays, 9am to 1pm, Saturdays. Closed on Sundays and bank holidays AVOID WORRY ACT NOW GET IN TOUCH

3 3 Code of Practice on Payment and Debt Recovery Having difficulty paying your bill? We can help you. Please contact us as soon as possible we cannot help you unless you let us know that you are having difficulties paying. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we will be able to suggest a way to help you pay. Please call our Debt Helpline on Alternatively, please write to South West Water PO Box 4762 Worthing BN11 9NT or us at: How can we help? Unfortunately we cannot just reduce the amount you have to pay, but if you are being charged on a rateable value basis and it is possible that your annual bill would be lower if you had a water meter installed, we will recommend that you consider this option. You can have a meter fitted free of charge as long as the cost is not unreasonable and it is practical to install one. You will have a legal right to change back to a rateable value charging basis within 24 months of the meter being fitted (or within one month of receiving a bill showing the total amount of water you have used in the 24 months since you had a meter fitted). If you want a meter but we cannot install one, we will offer you an Assessed Charge. Full details about metering, reversion and Assessed Charges are contained in our Code of Practice on Charges, Bills and Water Meters. Download a copy from our website at /CoP, or give us a call for a free copy. If you are already on a meter, we can check to see whether you are entitled to pay the special WaterSure Tariff which may give you a lower annual bill - for more information on this, see page 5. We can also send you water-saving advice which may help you reduce the amount of water you use and the amount you have to pay.

4 4 Once we have checked to see whether you are paying the lowest possible bill for your personal situation, we will discuss your finances with you and try to agree a payment plan which will help you to pay your bill. For both metered and unmetered payment plans, payments can be made monthly, fortnightly or weekly. The company operates a special Meter Payment Plan for metered customers. Under the plan, customers agree to pay a fixed amount each month, fortnight or week. At the end of each year the company will review the account and make any adjustments to the required payments if water use has changed and the amount being paid is too high or too low. If the account is in credit and a bill has been issued recently, customers can choose to have the over-payment refunded or carried forward to reduce the following year s payments. If not enough has been paid, the debt will be added to the following year s bill and monthly payments re-set to repay the outstanding balance over the next 12 months. We will always require a payment plan to be set at a level which clears the current year s charges by the end of the financial year (31 March), but if there are arrears on the account, we may be able to agree a longer period of time to clear these to make instalments more manageable. There are many ways to pay a bill: by direct debit (some instalment plans only) by standing order (some instalment plans only) by debit card at by telephone on our automated debit card payment line free of charge at post offices free of charge for payments in cash at Paypoint outlets at your own bank or building society (some banks now charge for this service) at any branch of Lloyds but the bank will charge 30p for a payment made in cash by post to Customer Accounts, South West Water, PO Box 4762, Worthing, BN11 9NT (but please do not send cash through the post) free of charge at South West Water s head office at Peninsula House, Rydon Lane, Exeter EX2 7HR. Full details of all charges, payment plans and payment options are included in our Household Charges Scheme available on our website.

5 5 If you have difficulties in getting to a Post Office, PayPoint outlet or bank because of a disability, we will try to find a convenient arrangement to help. To set up a payment plan please call our Debt Helpline on so that we can discuss your requirements with you and agree a suitable plan. Additional help if you are on a water meter The WaterSure Tariff If you have a water meter or pay the multi-occupancy assessed charge, you may qualify for help with your bill if you meet certain criteria. In addition to having a water meter, you must also be in receipt of one or more of the following benefits (or have someone else living in your household in receipt of the benefit): Income support Job-seekers allowance (income-based) Working tax credit Child tax credit (if you are receiving the child element of the credit. You will not qualify if you receive only the family element) Income-related employment and support allowance Pension credit Housing benefit Universal credit (subject to Government implementation). You will then qualify for help if: The person in receipt of the benefit has three or more dependent children under the age of 19 and for whom they receive child benefit normally living with them; or Someone in your household has one of the following medical conditions and this causes you to use a significant amount of extra water: Desquamation (flaky skin loss) Weeping skin disease (eczema, psoriasis, varicose ulceration) Incontinence Abdominal stomas Crohn s disease Ulcerative colitis Kidney failure requiring home dialysis (unless the National Health Service pays towards your water bill).

6 6 If you have someone in your household with an illness not on this list, you may qualify for help if the illness means you have to use a significant amount of extra water, but you will need to obtain a medical certificate from a registered medical practitioner which states: the name and address of the person with the illness the illness which requires a significant extra amount of water to be used the date on which the certificate is issued the name and address of the registered medical practitioner. You will have to pay any charge the medical practitioner makes for issuing the certificate. We will be pleased to send you full details and an application form if you think your household qualifies for help under the above scheme. You can also download information and an application form on our website. Water Direct payments from benefits The Water Direct scheme is run in conjunction with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The scheme is designed to help customers who have arrears on their water charges and are in receipt of the following income-related benefits: Income-based Jobseeker s Allowance Income-related Employment and Support Allowance Income Support Pension Credit. Universal Credit. The scheme allows customers who have a minimum of 50 arrears to pay a fixed amount towards their charges directly from their benefit. This helps many customers with budgeting and managing their water bills. We can help you to arrange this if you call our Debt Helpline on If you are arranging payment with JobCentrePlus yourself, please let us know. We will suspend action to recover debt until your application has been approved or rejected but please make sure you let us know what is happening.

7 7 The WaterCare Tariff If you have a water meter you may qualify for help with your bill if you are on a very low income and you or someone in your household receives one or more of the following means-tested benefits: Housing Benefit Income Support Income-based Job Seeker s Allowance Income-based Employment and Support Allowance Pension Credit (guaranteed element). Universal Credit (Housing element). We will be pleased to send you full details and an application form if you think your household qualifies for help under the above scheme. You can also download information and an application form on our website. The South West Water WaterCare+ scheme WaterCare+ is a scheme to help customers trying to pay by: checking a customer is getting all of the benefits to which they may be entitled making sure a customer is on the right tariff to give them the lowest possible water bill carrying out a home water and energy audit and suggesting simple ways to reduce water and energy use fixing dripping taps or leaking cisterns and installing simple water-saving devices such as low use shower heads, flow restrictors in taps and toilet flush reduction devices. We have agreed with Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx) and other debt advice agencies that we will include in the scheme customers with water debt problems who contact them for debt advice and help. The South West Water FreshStart fund The FreshStart fund has been set up to assist customers seeking help with water debt who are either new to debt or are dealing with an extraordinary life event and for whom immediate clearance of water debt or short-term help with bills would be beneficial. This fund will give you the time and financial assistance to help you adjust to these new circumstances for example if you are left with debt following the death of a partner, unemployment, relationship breakdown or illness.

8 8 The FreshStart fund is funded by South West Water and administered by Plymouth Citizen Advice Bureau. They will be able to offer help and advice to suit your personal circumstances as well as your water debt. How to get help from debt advice agencies You may find it helpful to obtain independent advice or debt counselling. If so, you could contact: your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) a consumer advice centre a money advice centre. If we are contacted by one of the above organisations because you have asked them to help you, we will suspend action to recover charges from you while discussions are taking place. We will often agree to a payment plan suggested by a debt counsellor from one of the debt advice organisations we have listed, and if you keep to the plan agreed, we will take no further action to recover any debts. If you do not, we will take action to recover all of the charges you owe. Contact details for your nearest CAB can be found in the telephone directory under Citizens Advice Bureaux. Other agencies contact details can be found in the Yellow Pages under Debt but some of these are commercial debt management organisations who may charge you for help and advice. Your local library may also have contact details of free debt counselling organisations in your area. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will have application forms for South West Water s FreshStart fund and may also recommend you to us for help under our WaterCare+ scheme (see the separate sections on FreshStart and WaterCare+ ). Your JobCentrePlus office may also be able to give you advice on benefits and where you can get help and advice about your debts. Tenants If you are a tenant, you are responsible for paying water and sewerage charges unless your landlord has agreed directly with us in writing to pay the charges. If your tenancy agreement states that the landlord is responsible, please check that she or he has a written agreement with us to pay. If you get a bill from us which you think your landlord should be paying, contact our Accounts Helpline on * immediately do not ignore the bill thinking your landlord is paying it.

9 9 What if you think your bill is wrong? If you think that you are not responsible for a bill we send you, or if you think that the amount claimed is wrong, please contact our Accounts Helpline on * immediately. We will look into the matter and try and resolve it with you. We will suspend recovery action for outstanding charges while we try to resolve matters. If we aren t able to resolve the matter and you need to make a complaint, the last section of this booklet explains how you can do this. Ultimately if we cannot reach an agreement with you by any other way, we may have to take legal action. What will happen if you do not pay your bill or keep to a payment plan? If, after we have sent you a bill, we do not receive payment or any contact from you to discuss payment, we will send you a reminder. We will also send you a reminder if you miss paying instalments. If we do not hear from you or receive payment after sending you a reminder, we will send you notice of our intention to ask the county court to issue a claim for nonpayment. If you have been paying by instalments and not responded to a reminder, you will receive a combined notice of cancellation of your instalment plan and intention to issue a claim. The claim will be for all monies you owe us and not just for any instalments you have missed paying. If you do not respond to this notice, depending on your payment history, we may: ask the court to issue a court claim; or contact you again ourselves; or ask a debt collection agency to recover the outstanding money. If a court claim is issued, extra legal costs will be added to the debt you owe us, as you will have to pay court and solicitors costs. If you receive a court claim you can ask the court to decide how you should pay off the debt, but if you do, you may have to pay additional court costs. You can also dispute the court claim if you believe you do not owe the money claimed. If you do not respond to the court claim, the court will make an order against you for the full debt. Further legal action, such as the issue of a warrant for the seizure of goods, can be taken against you once an order has been made.

10 10 A court order for payment will affect your ability to obtain credit. Where an order for payment has been made by the court and there is still no agreement with a customer to pay a debt, depending on the circumstances we may take one or all of the following actions: ask a debt collection agency to recover the outstanding money Visit a customer ourselves to try and agree a payment plan Ask the court to issue an enforcement process such as: a warrant to allow a court bailiff to seize your goods an Attachment of Earnings Order requiring your employer to pay money from your salary/earnings directly to us a Charging Order if you own your home. This will mean that you have to settle the debt before you can complete the sale of your home. Debt collection agencies Where a debt collection agency has been asked by us to recover money, any disputes or offers of payment must be made to the agency using the contact telephone number or address on correspondence the agency has sent you. The debt collection agencies we use are regulated by the Office of Fair Trading, are rigorously vetted by the company and operate within strict codes of practice. If you have any concerns or complaints about a debt collection agency please write to South West Water, PO Box 4762, Worthing, BN11 9NT. Credit reference agencies Information on accounts we hold or open will be sent to credit reference agencies and will be recorded by them. We will give details of your account and how you manage it to these agencies. If you owe us money and, when requested do not repay in full and on time, the agencies will record the outstanding debt. If we consider that your account is in default we will notify you and if you do not pay us we will report the unpaid debt to these agencies. This information may be supplied to other organisations by credit reference and fraud prevention agencies to perform similar checks and to trace your whereabouts if you have moved without telling us a forwarding address so that they can recover any debts that you owe. To read the full details of how your data may be used please visit our website /privacy or call *. If you are not satisfied Please let us know. If you believe that you do not owe money we are asking you to pay, or that we have not complied with this code of practice, you can let us know

11 11 using the contact details on the back of this leaflet. Our Complaints and Compliments leaflet explains how we will deal with your concern. In the unlikely event that we are not able to resolve a complaint to your full satisfaction and our position has been reviewed by a senior South West Water manager, you can refer your concerns to the Consumer Council for Water Western Region (CCWater). The Consumer Council for Water The Consumer Council for Water Western Region is an independent statutory body which protects customer interests and investigates customer complaints. It may be able to help you with advice on paying and where you can get help and advice on debt. To contact them: Telephone: Hard-of-hearing customers please dial before the phone number In writing: 1st floor, Victoria Square House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, B2 4AJ via form on website ccwater.org.uk If we are contacted on your behalf by the Consumer Council for Water we will also suspend all action to recover debt until matters are resolved. Water Industry Redress Scheme (WATRS) If your complaint remains unresolved after it has gone through all the stages of our complaints procedure and has been reviewed by CCWater, you may be eligible to take your concerns to WATRS, the Water Industry Redress Scheme who can provide an independent binding decision. Details on how and when to apply can be found at watrs.org or contact: Telephone: Postal address: WATRS International Dispute Resolution Centre 70 Fleet Street London EC4Y 1EU

12 12 Contact us Accounts helpline: * 8am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat Closed on Sundays and bank holidays Services helpline: * 8am-6pm Mon-Fri Emergencies only outside these times There s lots of information and we can be contacted on our website Debt helpline: Water conservation: Minicom: For hard-of-hearing customers please dial before the helpline numbers. Address South West Water, PO Box 4762, Worthing, BN11 9NT *03 numbers are charged at standard rates and will be included in any free minutes in a mobile or landline phone contract.

13 13 We have codes of practice on: Payment and Debt Recovery Priority Services Charges, Bills and Water Meters Complaints and Compliments Our Customer Promise Leakage for Domestic Customers Our Water Supply Service Our Waste Water Service Payment and Debt Recovery Priority Services. CPDv8_0316

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