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.