Consumer Council for Water
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Handful of water companies cause rise in water complaints

Handful of water companies cause rise in water complaints

CONSUMER COUNCIL FOR WATER News Release issued by COI News Distribution Service. 9 September 2008

A report released today (Tuesday 9 September) by the Consumer Council for Water reveals that specific problems within a few water companies caused an 11 per cent rise in complaints last year, while complaints to many other water companies either remained steady or fell.

Difficulties with the introduction of a new billing system led to a 155 per cent increase in complaints to Southern Water. Complaints to Anglian Water went up by 56 per cent, also because of trouble with the introduction of a new billing system, and South East Water saw complaints rise by 55 per cent on top of already high complaint figures.

Southern Water, South East Water and South West Water had the highest number of complaints after taking into account the number of customers that each company serves (complaints per 10,000 customers). Customer dissatisfaction with South West Water's prices traditionally contribute to high numbers of complaints to the company.

On a more positive note, complaints to Severn Trent Water fell by a third as it began to overcome problems from the year before, while other water companies continued to receive relatively few complaints, such as Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water, Portsmouth Water, Sutton and East Surrey Water, Hartlepool Water, Tendring Hundred Water and Folkestone and Dover Water.

Complaints to the Consumer Council for Water about water companies' service reflected a similar pattern. For example, when Southern Water staff were unable to handle the large increase of complaints themselves, frustrated consumers, with nowhere else to turn, contacted the Consumer Council for Water. This tripled the number of complaints about Southern Water to the water watchdog from the year before.

Dame Yve Buckland, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: "It is very disappointing that a few water companies are responsible for the overall rise in complaints.

"Without the high increases in complaints to Southern Water, Anglian Water and South East Water, figures for the industry overall would have dropped.

"It is even more disappointing that for the third year in a row, the rise in complaints has been heavily influenced by individual water companies introducing new billing systems that have gone wrong. Companies need to keep in mind that the changes they make do have an impact on consumers.

"Billing system problems take a long time to put right. It would be in the companies' best interest to work together, learn from each other's mistakes and replicate the systems that do work.

"While minor problems can happen, it is possible to introduce new billing systems without causing a surge in complaints. Yorkshire Water, for example, was able to change their billing system without disrupting customers.

"Just because they cannot choose their water supplier, customers should not have to put up with sub-standard service. We will continue to press water and sewerage companies to raise their standards of service, provide clear benefits to consumers and place consumer priorities at the heart of future plans."

Last year the Consumer Council for Water helped customers secure £1.76 million in compensation and rebates from water companies, and has so far worked with water companies to bring customers an extra £130 million in benefits, either through extra investments or reduced prices.

For the full report go to


Note for editors

1. The following tables show the number of complaints direct to all water and sewerage companies and water only companies, with the same breakdown of complaints per 10,000 customers.

Number of Complaints to Water Companies

Water & Sewerage Company    06-07    07-08     Difference % Change
      Southern Water Services Ltd 18979    48328     29349      154.64
      Anglian Water Services Ltd  16645    25891     9246       55.55
      United Utilities Water      24193    31920     7727       31.94
      South West Water Services   7810     9446      1636       20.95
      Wessex Water Services Ltd   6547     7773      1226       18.73
      Yorkshire Water Services    5193     5255      62         1.19 Ltd
      Dwr Cymru Welsh Water       10586    10628     42         0.40
      Northumbrian Water          7449     7333      -116       -1.56
      Thames Water Utilities Ltd  56914    52174     -4740      -8.33
      Severn Trent Water Ltd.     68874    45710     -23164     -33.63
      Water Only Company          06-07    07-08     Difference % Change
      South East Water Ltd        6721     10400     3679       54.74
      Three Valleys Water         3419     4763      1344       39.31
      Services plc
      Dee Valley Water plc        258      348       90         34.88
      Bristol Water plc           2685     3058      373        13.89
      Portsmouth Water plc        156      175       19         12.18
      Mid Kent Water plc          941      1040      99         10.52
      South Staffordshire Water   2825     2866      41         1.45 plc
      Essex & Suffolk Water       4048     3979      -69        -1.70
      Cambridge Water Company     465      453       -12        -2.58
      Sutton & East Surrey Water  379      357       -22        -5.80
      Tendring Hundred Water      158      140       -18        -11.39
      Services Ltd
      Folkestone and Dover Water  163      142       -21        -12.88
      Bournemouth & West          921      759       -162       -17.59
      Hampshire Water
      Hartlepool                  88       59        -29        -32.95
      Total of Complaints         246417   272997    26580      10.8

Complaints per 10k Customers 2007-2008

Water & Sewerage Company                      Complaints
      Southern Water Services Ltd                   248
      South West Water Services Ltd                 122
      Severn Trent Water Ltd.                       109
      United Utilities Water                        97
      Thames Water Utilities Ltd                    94
      Anglian Water Services Ltd                    91
      Dwr Cymru Welsh Water                         71
      Wessex Water Services Ltd                     64
      Northumbrian Water                            59
      Yorkshire Water Services Ltd                  23
      Water Only Company                            Complaints
      South East Water Ltd                          169
      Bristol Water plc                             61
      South Staffordshire Water plc                 52
      Essex & Suffolk Water                         51
      Mid Kent Water plc                            41
      Three Valleys Water Services plc              38
      Bournemouth & West Hampshire Water            38
      Cambridge Water Company                       35
      Dee Valley Water plc                          29
      Folkestone and Dover Water Services           19
      Tendring Hundred Water Services Ltd           19
      Hartlepool                                    14
      Sutton & East Surrey Water plc                13
      Portsmouth Water plc                          6
      Industry Average                              91 

By using complaints per 10,000 customers, companies can be compared more evenly because this takes into account the number of customers each company serves

The Consumer Council for Water

1. The Consumer Council for Water represents consumers in England and Wales.

2. The Consumer Council for Water is the statutory water consumer body, and operates as a non-departmental public body reporting to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Assembly Government. It has a committee for Wales, and at local level is supported by four regional committees in England.

3. Our website is

For public enquiries to the Consumer Council for Water, please contact via email on, our national number, 0845 039 2837, or via minicom on 0121 345 1044.

Please call to book Chief Executive Tony Smith for media interviews - available for interviews Tuesday 9 September. Regional spokespeople will also be available.

The Consumer Council for Water Victoria Square House, Victoria Square, Birmingham B2 4AJ

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