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CCW and Ofwat joint research into Anglian Water incident response

Yesterday, with Ofwat, we have published joint research which looks at the experiences of customers following a Boil Water Notice (BWN) by Anglian Water in July 2023, and how they felt the company handled the incident.

This research is part of an ongoing project looking at incident responses with the aim of understanding customers’ experiences and their expectations of companies during a service issue, and to find out what companies have done well, or poorly, and what the sector can do to improve the response when things do go wrong.

 Key findings

  • The incident was felt to be a major inconvenience for most households who found it hard to manage the practicalities of boiling and then cooling water, particularly as the event went on. Many opted to use bottled water instead.
  • Vulnerable households tended to find it harder to manage, especially in regards to getting bottled water delivery. This was due to a number of factors including, an inconsistent approach to water distribution and some customers not getting any bottled water despite asking because they were not on the Priority Services Register (PSR).
  • A key concern for affected residents was not knowing the cause of the BWN. The tone and content of communications from Anglian Water suggested minimal risk. However, some customers heard – or suspected – that it was E.coli and were angry that this information was withheld.
  • The majority of participants did not always follow the advice to boil water, with some people using unboiled water for activities such as cleaning their teeth.
  • Most people got the news about the BWN on the first evening, however many perceived they were informed late, having heard first from a non-Anglian Water source.
  • People registered for the PSR received prompt support via water deliveries but the communication and delivery of the water left many other residents feeling confused.
  • Vulnerable households were more likely to say that they had experienced significant emotional and financial impacts and had higher expectations of compensation.

Lessons learnt

  • Direct communications from the company – ideally from more than one channel – should underline the importance and urgency of the incident. Social media channels are important to encourage sharing.
  • Communications should be as clear as possible about which customers are affected and reassure those who do not need to act.
  • Messages need to be clear about when the incident began so customers know how long the risk has been present.
  • Communications need to inform and/or reassure people who have been drinking the water before they knew it should be boiled about the level of risk to their health and any actions they need to take.
  • Evidence from this incident suggests companies need to be transparent about the cause – and give practical advice about how to act – this would have improved compliance and confidence in the company.
  • People who are not on the PSR but who require assistance need to be able to access support quickly and easily. Companies should also manage expectations about bottled water deliveries effectively – for example, if they are for vulnerable households only.
  • Post-incident communications should address specific information needs to reassure customers and highlight how the company will mitigate the risks of future incidents.
  • Companies should take the opportunity in post-incident communications to raise awareness of their PSR and the additional practical assistance they can give to people in vulnerable circumstances

The research into this incident has highlighted the disruption, inconvenience, and anxiety that a BWN incident can cause for people. It shows that by taking a more customer-centric approach, companies can improve the experience of people affected, particularly when they are being asked to boil water for a protracted period. Effective communication has again been shown to be the major factor in managing these incidents and in meeting customers’ expectations.

We expect companies to take notice of the findings of this piece of research, and we will use the results in our work with companies to help improve the experience of customers who are affected by service incidents.

Anglian water Boil Water Notice Research

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