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Thames Water adopts 'Plain Numbers Approach' to help vulnerable customers

Thursday 1st July 2021 11:00

A woman in a blue tops looks at a computer screen which shows information about paying her water bill

Thames Water has taken part in ground-breaking new research to help vulnerable customers with poor numeracy skills better understand their water bills. 

The company is one of five firms – Thames Water, ClearScore, Octopus Energy, Atlanta Insurance and Direct Line – to take part in the first ‘Plain Numbers Approach’ research trials.

The project aims to simplify customer communications to support people who struggle with numbers. It is estimated that poor numeracy affects approximately half of working-age adults and has been identified as the most common cause of consumer vulnerability

The research findings, launched today at the Bank of England, showed that adopting a ‘Plain Numbers Approach’ doubled the number of people who understood the information in their water and sewerage bills and helped vulnerable customers who struggle with numbers to make informed choices.  

Thames Water is now using the findings as part of its ongoing work to improve its customer billing experience and services. 

Warren Buckley, Thames Water retail director said: “Clear, simple and inclusive communications are incredibly important to us, so we never stop looking for ways to improve our customer experience. The Plain Numbers collaboration has shown where we’re already doing well and has given us concrete ideas, some of which we’ve already implemented, to further improve our billing services. We’re confident that presenting figures and calculations in a way that’s clearer and easier to understand will grow consumer confidence and trust and is a key part of our continuing efforts to enhance the support we provide for our customers.”

Mike Ellicock, Co-founder, The Plain Numbers Project said: “It has been a privilege to work with the inaugural Plain Numbers Partners to see the Plain Numbers concept come to fruition. I am tremendously encouraged by these trial results and am glad that these market-leading firms’ faith in our vision to make the communication of numbers and data clear, fair and never misleading has proved justified. We now need to build upon this promising first step.”

The Plain Numbers report features the results of five independent trials conducted by Kantar Public to test a current form of customer communication (a bill for example) against a version with a Plain Numbers Approach applied (think Plain English - but for numbers), using a representative sample of the UK population. 

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

It 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.