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How Clean Data Helps Southern Water Identify Vulnerable Customers

Rising prices mean households across the country have had to tighten their spending, with many struggling to pay their bills. Water4All, a consortium led by Southern Water, is using data to identify low-income and vulnerable households to better support them


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      Cliff Saran,


    Published: 17:20 on August 15, 2022

Following the Covid pandemic, the current cost of living crisis is putting increasing pressure on customers and their ability to balance competing financial demands.

Step C June 2022 hange Debt Charity received 14,000 of debt counselling of 10 new clients, about one in five of them cited the increase in the cost of living as the main reason for falling into debt. In fact, StepChange cites the rising cost of living as the most frequently cited reason for indebtedness by new customers.

The charity reports that 28% of new customers pay water bill. While household water bills haven’t gone up like gas and electricity bills, the general crunch in household funding means many are struggling with all the expenses.

StepChange’s findings reflected in a study by data firm Sagacity The study found that two-thirds of people in the UK (about 18.6 million households) were concerned about their ability to pay their utility bills, but only 6% of respondents specifically sought help from their utility provider.

Government and regulators have launched several initiatives against utilities , to limit the impact of the cost of living crisis on the most vulnerable in society.

During the 20-month pilot period starting in 2020, the water Regulator Ofwat has been awarded £63m through its Innovation Fund. One of the winning projects, Water4All, a consortium led by Southern Water, aims to better support low-income and disadvantaged households by improving the way they are identified to help customers who may be facing billing difficulties.

Recognition property

Cliff Saran Southern Water has partnered with Sagacity, another member of the consortium, to help it better identify properties that may be vacant And where customers moved without notifying the utility company. Sagacity’s proprietary Occupier ID verifiable , correct and update poor quality data to eliminate errors and complaints, enable more accurate billing and improve service to customers. Sagacity doesn’t just rely on matching different datasets, but uses analytics to cleanse customer data. The data it uses includes, but is not limited to, proprietary data, credit reference data, the Land Registry and specialized third-party datasets.

Contacting the water provider is not always the most important thing when moving . This leads to inaccurate data in billing databases and means that people living in such properties often receive unexpected bills sent to “occupiers”. This has become a growing problem for companies and has left many customers unable to get the help they may need.

Southern Water Customer Service Principal Donna Howden described clean and accurate of the Importance of Customer Data, said: “Water4All brings together water and data companies. With Sagacity, we are working together on how to find financially vulnerable customers. Some may struggle to pay their energy bills and not pay their water bills. ”

By analyzing Sagacity’s data, she said it was possible to determine who Have financial difficulties and may be at risk of water supply disruption.

Southern Water has seen an upward trend in real estate without household status, This means that bills cannot be issued and customers cannot be contacted. While some of these properties are empty or invalid, others are not, creating a set of challenges for companies and their customers. Without paying bills or reading meters, water that is being used not only loses revenue, but it is often lost and seen as a leak.

As part of Ofwat’s 2019 price review, water regulator rules Water utilities must develop a performance commitment for domestic and non-domestic customers that covers managing site clearances (unbilled properties) and vacancies (vacant properties).

This means the water company needs to know who lives In that property, is there any property development, and is there missing data, such as where, Howden said, the data for a given street is missing some numbers. This can happen when combining two houses into one larger property.

Value of clean billing data

Identifying these gap attributes is helpful Water companies understand if anyone is struggling to pay their water bills at a critical step. Howden cites a study by StepChange showing that customers new to debt take an average of 12 months to contact a supplier.

“Historically, we’ve always had Some form of tracking,” she added. “We can make clients who live in the property eligible for our financial support or can sign up for our priority service.”

However, in order to identify these vulnerable clients, clean and accurate data is required. During the pilot of the data cleaning project, Sagacity cleaned and verified 98% of the accounts provided by Southern Water, significantly reducing instances of address errors. As a result, in 31% of cases, Sagacity identified a confident occupier, allowing Southern Water to contact and charge previously unknown or incorrectly listed customers accordingly.

Leaving aside the restrictions imposed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Howden hopes that one day all utility companies can share data to help them understand when a property has a new occupant and whether that person is eligible for financial support.

“Identifying residents gives us a true understanding of our area , customers and demographics,” she said. “It allows us to provide a full range of services to our customers, especially those who need our support the most. With the current cost of living crisis affecting so many people, this has never been more serious.”

Cliff Saran

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