Advocating for people struggling with water bills

Below are highlights from our presentation to Council. The full report is linked below and
opens as a PDF.


The United Way of Bruce Grey has an extensive Utility Assistance Program. The Program provides grants of up to $500 per utility once per 12 months.

In 2016 the Program processed $347 134 in supports to the broad Bruce Grey community. This represents 1630 client interactions as many households accessed more than one funding stream.

City of Owen Sound

Specific to the City of Owen Sound the United Way processed 16 requests for assistance with city sewer and water bills. (Full program demographics are in Appendix A) As there is no dedicated funding for sewer and water, the United Way seeks grants and donations for this aspect of the Program. Applicants to the Program must have a pending disconnection order to access funding.

The United Way prevented disconnection of services for all 16 applicants.

When the funding gets low, city sewer and water is the first utility that is excluded as priority is given to heating needs.

Other Support Programs

Other social service agencies have provided an additional $9 000 in supports in 2016 to pay City sewer and water bills.

Almost $16 000 paid to City of Owen Sound for Sewer and Water customers.

In the past 7 years the United Way has paid over $20 000 towards sewer and water bills to the City of Owen Sound.

The United Way is concerned with the sudden increase in applicants to the program:

  • 2016 requests for support: 16 households received $6 953.44
  • 2017 requests for support (to March 20th): 15 households seeking $7 243 in support

The applicants to the United Way program had an average monthly income of $1 640.

The average rent/mortgage of applicants to the United Way Program is $1000  

  • Applicants are spending well over 50% of their income on housing costs.
    • Standard financial practice is that no more than 40% of income should go to all housing costs (rent, mortgage, utilities, taxes etc)
  • Low income residences have trouble saving for a quarterly bill as there is always an issue or another urgent bill that always crops up. (Appendix C )
  • Without the trigger of a monthly bill, customers sometimes forget there is a water bill. Low-income residents are always prioritizing bills and missing just one City bill will put those 6 months behind at risk of disconnection.
  • Quarterly billing also does not alert homeowners to leaks in a timely manner. (Case Study Appendix D )
  • Tenants will be able to alert Landlords to needed repairs sooner, and when there is non-compliance for water based repairs, demonstrate the impact to the Landlord and Tenant Board

A Solution

The United Way requests that the City undertake an 18 month pilot project where monthly billing is provided to:

  • All Owen Sound Not-for-profit housing units (est 50 units)
  • All Grey County housing units (est 75 units)
  • Any Owen Sound resident who has experienced arrears and wishes to “opt in”

The pilot can assess the increased mailing costs that are offset by the potential reduction in staff time and other collection related activities.

By-law 2002-032 already empowers monthly billing (Appendix E)

2.3 Water accounts may be rendered monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or on any other basis as established by the Council of the City from time to time.

 Benefits to monthly billing for customers

  • Budgeting is easier
  • If payment is going to be a challenge, the challenge is identified sooner
  • Arrears will be smaller and therefore payment plans more manageable
  • Leaks and over-usage are flagged immediately
  • Monthly bill serves as a reminder when prioritizing what bills to pay

Benefits to monthly billing for City

  • Higher compliance with bill collection
  • Fewer disconnection and collection activities
  • Increased cash flow

UWBG March 20 2017 Delegation and Report to Council website

Due to the size of the report the ‘case study’ was removed. The original full report can be found here.