UK water companies send "aggressive" debt collection letters
UK water companies have been sending customers increasingly aggressive debt collection letters in order to get them to pay their bills.
An investigation by the BBC has revealed that more than half of the UK's water suppliers have been sending letters to customers in arrears that appear to be from an external debt agency but are actually from the companies themselves.
In most cases, the name of the debt collection agency appears in large print at the top of the page, while the link to the water company only appears in the small print. Sometimes, no mention is made at all.
The revelation comes after controversial payday lender Wonga was found to have sent fake legal letters from made-up law firms threatening to debt-ridden customers threatening legal action.
Water regulator Ofwat has written to the water suppliers stating the format of the letters is unacceptable.
One firm, Yorkshire Water - which has been sending letters to some customers under the name Rockford Debt Collections – said it has temporarily changed its approach but that customers would have received three letters from them urging them to call.
The UK's largest domestic water supplier, Thames Water, said that while it will continue with sending letters headed County Wide Collections, it will now state in three places that it is part of the Thames Water Group.
Other companies such as Welsh Water, Northumbrian Water and Affinity Water stopped sending these sorts of letters earlier this year.
Chief executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said: "We're not saying don't pursue debt. Clearly companies are entitled to do that, but we are saying that they really ought to do that honestly and with some sensitivity.
"These letters are about increasing the level of aggression to get payment and they're made on the assumption that people won't pay rather than actually that many can't."
“Arrears” tend to be associated with debt. If you fall behind and miss payments on any outstanding debt, the amount you failed to pay is an arrear – the amount accrued from the date on which the first missed payment was due.