University of Leicester eBulletin

Help Paying Water Bills

May 2002
No 94

When people are unable to pay for essential services, such as water, help may be available through organisations such as the Severn Trent Trust Fund, but the use of charitable funds to pay household bills is not without its critics.

The University of Leicester Centre for Utility Consumer Law is embarking on a research project, financed by Severn Trent Trust Fund, the largest independent trust of its type, to find out how applicants for funding, who have water bills or other costs they cannot meet, feel about applying to the charity.

People will be asked how they experience their application, how it makes them feel about themselves, and what they feel they have to give in return.

The research will be led by Professor Cosmo Graham, Director of the University’s Centre for Utility Consumer Law, and will be guided by a steering committee which will include trustees and staff of the Severn Trent Trust Fund.

Professor Graham commented: “Water charities have emerged in recent years as a consequence of the far-reaching changes to our water supply and social security arrangements. Views about charitable help tend to be divided.  

“We hope this research will help inform debate about ways of ensuring all of us can access essential services like the water supply – not least by finding out from applicants themselves what it’s like applying to a water charity.”

Stuart Braley, Chief Executive of Severn Trent Trust Fund said: “We are enthusiastic about this research. It’s important that people turning to us for help don’t feel inhibited or devalued in any way. Few people are lucky enough not to have a crisis at some time in their lives; the Trust is able to give a helping hand.  

“The value of the right approach far outweighs merely giving financial aid. Our experience is that for many people, contact with the Trust has changed their lives giving hope, confidence and empowerment. This is a benefit worth building on. We can only do so by learning from this and other research”.   

The University of Leicester Centre for Utility Consumer Law was established in 1998 with funding from the Nuffield Foundation. Much of its work has been bound up with the energy regulator’s Social Action Plan, to deal with fuel poverty and devised to try and ensure that the benefits of competition between the utilities should be shared more equally across the whole range of consumers, including disadvantaged households. The Centre’s work is consumer-based and involves improving links between companies and advice centres.

Note to editors: Further information is available from Professor Cosmo Graham, Director of the University of Leicester Centre for Utility Consumer Law, telephone 0116 252 2355, facsimile 0116 252 5023, email cg47@le.ac.uk.

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