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Thames Water achieves 'British Standard' for helping vulnerable customers

Friday 4th June 2021 09:14

A man sits on a sofa with an injured foot resting on a coffee table

Thames Water's work to provide inclusive services to customers living in vulnerable circumstances has been recognised by the British Standards Institution.

The company has achieved certification to BSI’s Inclusive Service Verification scheme (BS 18477), which covers practices around the identification of customer vulnerability, inclusive design of products and services and data collection, protection and sharing.

During the BSI audit, the water company demonstrated it provides inclusive water and wastewater services that are accessible to all consumers equally – regardless of personal circumstances.

Consumer vulnerability can be the result of financial issues or a customer’s long-term health and mental health problems or a change in circumstances, such as a bereavement or recent job loss which could affect a customer’s vulnerability at a specific time. 

Thames Water provides training for its staff on how to understand when customers might be in a vulnerable position and the best ways to communicate with them – meeting BSI’s criteria for employees understanding the underlying factors involved in consumer vulnerability. 

Thames Water also provides a variety of financial support options for customers who may be struggling financially as well as a range of services and communication options, which customers can benefit from, such as sending bills in large print, braille or on a coloured background.  Last year the company introduced the British Sign Language app into its support services for customers who are Deaf to enable more inclusive and accessible communications.   

Sabrina Hill, vulnerability lead at Thames Water, said: “We’re always looking for ways to improve our services for customers and receiving this certification shows we’re on the right track when we help customers who may be in a vulnerable position and need extra support. We know it’s been a particularly challenging time for some of our customers and as an essential service it’s important we’re as inclusive and accessible as possible while doing our best to help customers.”

Heather Nowak, client manager, at BSI said: "BSI’s Inclusive Service Verification asks service providers to demonstrate the ways in which they identify and respond to different consumer needs.

“Customers should be reassured that when dealing with Thames Water they will be provided with a priority service in a fair and inclusive way, regardless of the vulnerable situation they may find themselves in. Identifying consumers that may need additional support to access all the services an organization provides is vital and we congratulate Thames Water on their achievement.”

During operational incidents resulting in a loss of water supply, customers who require extra support and are registered for priority services, are contacted by Thames Water’s care team for bottled water deliveries directly to their homes if they are unable to get to a collection hub. The system also gives them advanced warning of planned work which may risk an interruption to their water supply and provides tailored communication services.

Thames Water customers who are living with long-term health conditions, mobility issues or qualify for a pension can join the company’s free priority services register (PSR). Thames Water has 125,000 customers signed up to its PSR but aims to have 410,000 by 2025.

The company recently partnered with London Fire Brigade to help more customers in vulnerable circumstances join the company’s PSR. A data sharing agreement between the two organisations, allows the Brigade to share details of people it identifies from its Home Fire Safety Visits who may be more vulnerable if an emergency affects their water supply. The partnership aims to add up to 1,500 customers per month to the PSR.

Last year Thames Water teamed up with Age UK Berkshire to encourage older customers to join its PSR and has also partnered with the Renal Association and National Kidney Federation to encourage people living with kidney disease to sign up.

Customers can find out if they qualify for the PSR and sign up by visiting Priority Services or calling 0800 009 3652.

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