A consumer group has warned that over a million households are struggling to keep up with their water bills.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) said that some people even had to forgo eating in order to save up money to pay for water.
The CCW is advocating a “social tariff” that is based on a percentage of household income in order to tackle the problem.
CCW data shows that around 1.7 million people live in “water poverty”. They define water poverty as having a water bill that exceeds 5% of their income after housing costs.
The group also warns that around three million households are at risk of sliding into this category, including those on Universal Credit, where any small change to their income could push them over the edge.
Senior policy manager at CCW, Andy White, said around 260,000 people were being helped with their water bills by a variety of schemes being run by water companies.
However, the watchdog says that is a “postcode lottery” as to whether a household can get help, and that a social tariff would help solve this issue.
Emma Clancy, chief executive of the CCW, said: "We have a golden opportunity to create a simpler and fairer system and end the indignity of people skipping meals or other essentials to pay their water bill.
"Many people are craving certainty in these difficult times and these proposed changes would give millions of households one less thing to worry about and greater peace of mind - whatever the future holds."
Chief executive of Water UK, Christine McGourty, said: "Levels of support for customers have never been greater.
"Over the past year water companies have gone to unprecedented lengths to help hundreds of thousands of household customers who could least afford their bills, with support such as payment breaks and extra assistance for those most in need - but we know there's more to be done."
Citizens Advice’s Gillian Cooper said: "Water is essential, but sadly we know not everyone can easily afford it.
"As households continue to feel the impact of the pandemic, people facing financial difficulties need better support to help them pay their bills.
"CCW's proposal to establish a single social tariff would help make water bills affordable for all households on low incomes."
Rebecca Pow, environment minister, said she would take the recommendations into account and that she’d work with the industry "to build a stronger, better and fairer water service".
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