Water bills in England and Wales will increase by the most in almost 20 years from April.
The 7.5% hike will see the average customer pay £31 more annually than last year – taking the typical bill to £448, according to industry body Water UK.
It said bills were lower in real terms than a decade ago and that the below-inflation increase reflected rising energy costs, as water firms use 2% of the country’s electricity.
Consumer groups have warned that some of the one in five who are already struggling to pay could be pushed over the edge.
People with large families or on a meter could face a rise much higher rise than the average £31.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) said there was a postcode lottery of social tariff schemes, meaning some people who need help with their bills “slip through the net”.
“These increases will bring more uncertainty to struggling households at a time when they can’t be certain they will get the help they need,” said CCW chief executive Emma Clancy.
“Low-income households need immediate relief and the long-term security of knowing their water bill will be affordable.
“It’s not fair that struggling households face a postcode lottery when it comes to getting help with their bill – that’s why we urgently need a new water affordability scheme that provides consistent support based on people’s needs.”
Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action also called for social tariffs to be made “fairer, more consistent, and accessible to everyone who needs it, regardless of where they live”.
Water UK policy director Stuart Colville said an extra £200m was being released by the companies to help such people.
“Anyone with worries should contact their water company or go to supportontap.org for advice, and it’s worth remembering that water companies will never cut anyone off, or make them use a prepayment meter,” he said.
Mr Colville said the rise would also support record investments and that a further £70bn would be spent in the coming years on new reservoirs and “building new reservoirs and ending overflows into rivers”.
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