The third Monday in January, this year 15 January, is typically tagged ‘Blue Monday’.

This is recognised as being a day when for many people across West Lancashire and elsewhere in the North West, the Christmas bills roll in and they find themselves in uncertain and stressful financial circumstances.

In response to this United Utilities has this week launched two new financial support schemes, one of which guarantees to help customers who are behind with their water bills to be debt free within two years.

It has launched these schemes today at its first ever affordability summit where it has brought together organisations from across the region who deal with customers in challenging circumstances to discuss what more can be done to support those struggling to make ends meet.

United Utilities’ new payment plus scheme is for customers who are behind with their water bill payments. For those customers who commit to a payment plan, for every pound they pay off towards their outstanding debt, United Utilities will pay a pound too.

After six months, the company will increase its contribution to two pounds for every pound the customer pays and after two years, any debt that remains will be written off -; guaranteed debt-free in two years.

In response to the roll-out of Universal Credit, the company is also offering customers a suspension or delay in their payments for up to eight weeks, giving them time to manage their budgets in the event of a short-term reduction in their household income due to the transition over to Universal Credit.

West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper met with United Utilities representatives recently to hear about their plans:
“I very much welcome the efforts of United Utilities in supporting its customers who may be struggling with their payments or increasing debt and providing a manageable and attractive solution to clearing some of their utility bills.

“Not only can keeping up with rising utility bills be difficult, but it’s widely known that many families really feel the pinch of their financial debts after the Christmas period.

“It will be appreciated by many customers the opportunity to work with United Utilities to help clear any debts through the newly launched schemes.”

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Rosie Cooper MP meets with United Utilities’ John Martin and Keith Haslett

Louise Beardmore, customer service director at United Utilities, said:
“From our point of view, if customers are struggling with water bills, they are likely to be struggling to pay most of their household bills, so this is collective challenge to see what more we could all be doing to help and support people.

“We already offer a wide range of financial assistance schemes to support our most vulnerable customers, but we are challenging ourselves to improve the scale and effectiveness of the support we offer. We also know lots of customers may be unaware of what we do or feel unable to reach out for the help.

“Coming together with others who can likewise support customers and encourage them to access the help available is important for getting people out of poverty and back on track.”

Over half of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK are in the North West and attending the summit are key agencies, utilities, local authorities, credit unions, foodbanks, housing associations and charitable organisations from across the region.

Supporting the event to emphasise the importance of organisations working together to tackle these issues is Lord John Bird, founder of the Big Issue. He said:
“Affordability is a central part of the agenda. During times of austerity, many people are offering support to those in their own communities who find themselves in the grip of poverty.

“It’s important for large businesses to do the same; especially those businesses that provide an integral service to the most vulnerable and have a stake in tackling the poverty premium.

“Spiralling into debt is one of the largest contributing factors to rising poverty. It’s why we need to work together – social business, corporates, the public sector, government – to scale up the solutions. Solutions that prevent people getting into problem debt in the first place, and – if they’re there – helping them find manageable and affordable routes out.

“At The Big Issue Group, our mission is to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. We exist to help those who need a hand up, and out, of extremely trying circumstances. Our Big Issue vendors come from a variety of backgrounds, and face a myriad of problems. We will continue to be there for the most vulnerable, but, more than ever, we also need to combine the ideas, energy and resources of all those working to dismantle the root causes of poverty in the UK.”

More information about these two new schemes, along with all the other financial assistance which United Utilities can provide, along with how to apply, can be found on the United Utilities website at www.unitedutilities.com/difficulty-paying-bill

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