Working together to support customers in vulnerable circumstances

Working together to support customers in vulnerable circumstances

9 April 2021

Twelve months on from the first national lockdown, we sat down with Sam James, Managing Director of Household Customer Services, to find out about how Welsh Water hopes to bring organisations together to work in partnership to support households across Wales that may struggle to access the services that they are entitled to.

Tell us about Welsh Water’s approach.

When it comes to supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution. A young family with a low household income might have a completely different set of needs to an elderly person living alone. A person with a learning disability needs different support than someone with impaired vision.

What we aim to do is tailor our support and services to meet the individual needs of our customers. We have established a specialist support team that can help with financial and non-financial support; we have trained our community based teams on how best to respond to the signs that a customer may need additional assistance; and we work with partners in local government, housing, energy and the third sector to improve access to support that is available. In doing this, the key is being able to identify who needs this support and what their circumstances are, so that we can understand their specific needs and offer them the support they need.

How is Welsh Water working with other organisations?

We have a great network of partners that we work with. Our work ranges from data sharing arrangements with energy distributors in our area to training local housing officers to be able to sign up customers to our social tariffs. These partnerships are incredibly valuable and we recently held our first virtual Vulnerable Customer Workshop, bringing together many of these organisations to share ideas and experiences of the work that we are all doing in this area.

We had over 80 people representing Welsh Government, local authorities, social landlords, utilities companies, debt advice agencies and charitable organisations join us for a morning of idea-sharing and important conversations focussed on finding new ways to reach and support the most vulnerable in society.

What has been achieved so far?

Probably the most significant development has been in the area of data sharing, and it is something that came out of a similar event that we organised in 2019. As a result of discussions with Welsh Government on a priority services data sharing initiative, we were in a good position to work with them to respond to introduction of shielding for people that are high risk categories for COVID19. We created a temporary Priority Services Register for the c350,000 people in Wales that were instructed to shield, which allows us to prioritise customers who might need additional support, like free bottled water delivered to their door if their water supply is interrupted. The other area to call out is our Water Resilient Communities projects. This is where we have set up community based projects in areas where we are also investing in improvements to our water and sewerage network. We work closely with local establishments like schools, job centres, and food banks to better understand how we can address some of the challenges that those individual communities face. It also allows us to raise awareness and access to the support that we provide.

Any final thoughts?

Our recent workshop really demonstrated what can be achieved when we pool our ideas, our people and our resources. As well as the value of hearing about other people’s experiences, it is an opportunity to learn about how we can improve our services and tackle some common goals. This is certainly my takeaway from the day and I am looking forward to working with many of the people that attended to turn these really positive discussions into action.

Find out more about our Priority Services Register and Financial Support.