Consumer Council for Water
Four companies in hot water over spike in complaints about bills and service
Problems with bills and disruption to services have led to four water companies being warned to curb a sharp rise in complaints from their customers.
More than 2 million calls were made by households to water companies across England and Wales in 2018/19 to resolve problems with the essential services they provide, according to the Consumer Council for Water’s (CCWater) annual complaints report.
That was almost 60,000 fewer calls – known as ‘unwanted contacts’ – than last year and outweighed a 5,400 increase in the number of customers that had to put a complaint in writing. However, more households had to turn to CCWater for help resolving a dispute after reaching a dead end with their company.
CCWater is now demanding an urgent improvement from Thames Water, Northumbrian Water, Essex and Suffolk Water and Hafren Dyfrdwy, whose performance have caused the greatest concern. All four companies have been asked to provide the watchdog with quarterly reports highlighting what action they have already taken and what else they plan to do to reduce complaints.
Almost half of customers’ grievances related to problems with their bill or charges but there was also a 28 per cent rise in complaints about water supply and pressure, as some companies struggled to manage the challenges posed by a bitterly cold spring and sweltering summer.
Tony Smith, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water, yesterday said:
“Far too many customers are having to waste their time and suffer the frustration of disputing unclear or inaccurate bills.”
“In the autumn we’ll be bringing the whole industry together to try and improve the standards of billing, as well as demanding a significant fall in the complaints made to the four poor performers named in our report.”
No other company received more complaints about its water supply than Thames Water, which must now provide CCWater with quarterly reports on its progress after being named among the industry’s worst performers. It was one of the main reasons England’s largest supplier experienced a 24 per cent rise in written complaints, with 10 per cent more customers having to pick up the phone to resolve an issue with their service.
Problems sparked by the rollout of a new billing system were the main cause of a spike in calls and written complaints to Northumbrian Water and Essex Suffolk Water, which are part of the same company. The changes meant customers encountered longer waiting times or saw their calls abandoned, leading to a 64 per cent rise in written complaints to Northumbrian Water while Essex and Suffolk’s more than doubled.
Difficulties caused by a new bill layout and changes to charges were largely to blame for Hafren Dyfrdwy seeing a 154 per rise in written complaints during its transition from Dee Valley Water, following a takeover by Severn Trent Water. It was the worst performer for complaints made in writing based on CCWater’s comparative measure and also saw a 42 per cent surge in calls from customers to resolve problems.
CCWater hopes challenging these companies will lead to the same sort of improvement seen at Bournemouth Water, which faced similar criticism for a sharp rise in written complaints in 2015/16. The company has since transformed itself into one of the industry’s best performers and reported further reductions in 2018/19, despite upgrading its billing system.
Southern Water, SES Water and Bristol Water also took significant strides towards improving their standing in the industry after attracting strong criticism from the watchdog 12 months ago. For the first time in seven years, Southern is no longer the worst performer for written complaints after reporting a 27 per cent reduction.
Anglian Water remains the best performing water and sewerage company for calls to resolve problems, with the supplier also seeing its written complaints fall marginally. South East Water, South Staffs Water, Hartlepool Water and Wessex Water also earned praise for their performance.
You can read the full report here
For more information or to arrange an interview please call 0121 345 1005/1006.
Notes to Editors
The report compares companies’ performance on a measure called ‘unwanted contacts’. These telephone calls do not just include complaints and can cover a wide range of contacts where customers have reported a service issue or had to chase their water company for action to be taken.
We compare individual company performance based on complaints per 10,000 connected households, to account for the differences in company size.
Latest News from
Consumer Council for Water
Launch of Water Mark assessment of industry performance03/04/2020 10:25:00
We have launched our Water Mark assessment to showcase how well water companies are delivering in the areas that matter most to their customers.
Read our latest Forward Work Programme01/04/2020 13:38:00
Campaigning for water charges that everyone can afford and ensuring services are able to stand the test of time will be among the leading priorities for CCW over the next three years.
BLOG: Help for business customers during coronavirus31/03/2020 11:43:00
If you run a business there’s a good chance you may already be counting the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly if you’ve temporarily closed.
Households hit by virus impact urged to tap into water company support26/03/2020 09:20:00
Households whose finances are being impacted by the coronavirus outbreak are being urged to tap into support from their water company.
Seeking support during the coronavirus outbreak24/03/2020 09:20:00
We know that this is a challenging and uncertain time for everyone and that the coronavirus outbreak is having an impact on so many aspects of our lives.
Farmers and waterbills: time to charge ahead for accurate billing23/03/2020 09:25:00
Paul Hammett, the NFU’s National Water Resources Specialist, discusses the impact the retail water market has had on farmers’ bills – and how they can avoid falling foul of inaccurate wastewater charges.
CCW backs plan to tackle threat to future water supplies17/03/2020 16:48:00
A blueprint to protect the future of our water supplies and environment from the impact of climate change and a growing population has received backing from CCW.
CCW consults on changes to regional committees05/03/2020 12:43:00
CCW is consulting on proposed changes to its structure which would see it reduce the number of committees it has across England and Wales.