Our Social Return on Investment (SROI) work has found that the impact of water companies’ trust and assistance schemes on vulnerable customers was “clearly substantial”.
Our study estimated that, for every £1 invested into the schemes, £3.06 of benefits was generated. If debt written off following bankruptcy or Debt Relief Orders (DROs) proceedings was included, benefits rise to £3.67 for every £1 invested.
Total benefits from the schemes over the course of one year were estimated to exceed £47 million, or nearly £57 million if including debt written off following bankruptcy or DRO proceedings.
The schemes produced a number of outcomes for individuals, including improvements to their financial situation, physical and mental health, housing, relationships and employment.
Feedback on the application process and support provided to individuals was positive and, for most people, the support that they received exceeded their expectations. A number of beneficiaries have recommended the scheme that supported them to family or friends, and some felt that their involvement had “transformed” their view of their water company and/or water companies in general.
This research has important policy implications. Through the funding of these schemes, the intervention and preventative work to stop debt getting out of control could make significant savings for the public purse.
Ecorys was originally commissioned in 2016 by Auriga Services, Severn Trent Trust Fund, United Utilities Trust Fund and Thames Water Trust Fund to measure the impact of the Severn Trent Trust Fund, United Utilities Trust Fund, Thames Water Trust Fund and Thames Water Customer Assistance Fund. These schemes provide grants to individuals or families struggling to meet their water bill payments, plus further assistance grants to cover essential household goods and fees for bankruptcy and Debt Relief Orders (DROs) if it will make significant impact. The three trust funds also provide grants to organisations providing debt support and money advice.
The SROI study was supported by an online survey of beneficiaries, data analysis, desk review of literature on the impact of water bill debt, and consultations with beneficiaries, grant recipients and staff involved in administering the schemes. The online survey (including telephone reminders) were developed and managed by our in-house survey team – Ecorys Survey.