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How clean data helps Southern Water identify vulnerable customers

Escalating prices means households round the country are experiencing to tighten spending, with many struggling to cover their bills. Water4All, a consortium led by Southern Water, is using data to recognize low-income and vulnerable households to allow them to be better supported

Cliff Saran

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Published: 15 Aug 2022 17: 20

Following hot on the heels of the Covid pandemic, the existing cost-of-living crisis is putting increasing pressure on customers and their capability to balance competing financial demands.

The StepChange Debt Charity received 14,000 new customers for debt advice in June 2022, with around one in five of these citing a rise in the price of living as a primary reason behind falling into debt. Actually, StepChange cites the cost-of-living hike because the single mostly mentioned reason behind debt among new customers.

The charity reported that 28% of new customers have responsibility for water bills. While households haven’t seen their water bills escalate just as as gas and electricity, the overall squeeze on household funds means most are struggling with all their outgoings.

StepChanges findings are reflected in a report from data company Sagacity, which includes discovered that two-thirds of the united kingdom about 18.6 million households come to mind about their capability to pay bills, yet just 6% of individuals surveyed have specifically asked their utility supplier for help.

Numerous initiatives have already been launched, by government and regulators, for utilities to limit the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on probably the most vulnerable members of society.

Over a 20-month pilot period from 2020, water regulator Ofwat awarded 63m through its innovation fund. Among the winning projects, Water4All, a consortium led by Southern Water, aims to greatly help customers who could be fighting bills by improving how low-income and vulnerable households are identified to allow them to be better supported.

Identifying properties

Southern Water has already been dealing with Sagacity, another person in the consortium, to greatly help it better identify properties which may be empty and where customers have moved without informing the utility companies.

Sagacitys proprietary Occupier ID verifies, corrects and updates low quality data to get rid of errors and complaints, leading to more accurate billing and a better service to customers. Instead of relying solely on matching different datasets, Sagacity uses analytics to completely clean customer data. The info it uses includes, but isn’t limited by, proprietary data, credit reference data, Land Registry and specialist third-party datasets.

When moving properties, contacting the water supplier isn’t always the best priority. This renders data in the billing database inaccurate and means people surviving in such properties tend to be sent surprise bills addressed to The Occupier. That is learning to be a growing issue for companies and is leaving many customers without usage of the help they could need.

Describing the significance of clean and accurate customer data, Donna Howden, Southern Water head of customer support, says: Water4All includes water and data companies. With Sagacity, we have been working together to check out how exactly we find customers that are financially vulnerable. Some could be struggling to cover energy bills and wont purchase water.

By analysing data from Sagacity, she says it could be possible to recognize who’s having financial difficulties and could be vulnerable to having their water supply take off.

Southern Water has seen a rising trend of properties lacking any identified occupier, this means bills can’t be issued and customers can’t be contacted. Although some of the properties are empty, or void, others aren’t, which creates a variety of challenges for the business and its own customers. Where bills aren’t being paid or meters not being read, the water that’s being used isn’t just lost revenue, but can be often lost water and viewed as leakage.

Within Ofwats 2019 price review, the water regulator stipulated that water companies must set up a performance commitment within the management of site gaps (unbilled properties) and voids (vacant properties), for both household and non-household customers.

This implies water companies have to understand who lives in the house, whether there’s been a house development, and when data is missing, such as for example where in fact the data for confirmed street has some numbers missing, saysHowden. This may happen when two houses are combined to produce a larger property.

The worthiness of clean billing data

Identifying these gap properties is really a key part of helping the water company understand if someone is struggling to cover the water services bill. Referencing a report from StepChange, Howden says customers not used to debt take, normally, 12 months to attain out to the supplier.

Historically, we’ve always done some type of trace with search agencies, she adds. We’re able to have a person living in a house who is qualified to receive financial support from us or can sign up for our priority service.

But, to recognize these vulnerable customers, clean and accurate data is necessary. Throughout a pilot of the info cleaning project, Sagacity cleansed and validated 98% of the accounts Southern Water supplied, significantly reducing cases of incorrect addresses. Consequently, in 31% of the cases, Sagacity identified an occupier with a solid degree of confidence, enabling Southern Water to get hold of those customers, who have been previously either unknown or listed incorrectly, and bill them accordingly.

Putting aside the restrictions imposed by the overall Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Howden hopes that certain day you’ll be able for several utilities to talk about data in a manner that would help them understand whenever a property includes a new occupier and whether see your face may be qualified to receive financial support.

Identifying occupiers gives us a genuine picture of our region, customers and demographics, she says. It enables us to supply our full selection of services to customers, especially those that need our support probably the most. It has never been more critical, with the existing cost-of-living crisis impacting a lot of people.

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