Drop in water complaints but still work to be done.

The Consumer Council for Water revealed today (Tuesday 21 September) that complaints to water companies in England and Wales reduced by nearly 17 per cent last year, extending the trend of declining complaints to the industry, and bringing complaint numbers down by nearly a third in the last two years.

In the past, the water industry had developed a reputation for rising complaints, which began before the Consumer Council for Water was formed. But from the start the water watchdog worked hard to put pressure on poor performing companies to make improvements. While results are beginning to look promising many companies still have further to go if they are going to turn complaint numbers around completely.

Water companies with a considerable drop in complaints last year included Southern Water, with 39 per cent fewer complaints, Veolia Water Central, with 30 per cent fewer complaints, Anglian Water, with 27 per cent fewer complaints, and Severn Trent Water, with 23 per cent fewer complaints compared to the previous year’s figures.

Other water companies with already low complaint numbers improved even further last year, including Northumbrian Water, with a 28 per cent drop in complaints, and Veolia Water Southeast, with 21 per cent fewer complaints. Portsmouth Water, Hartlepool Water, Cambridge Water, and Bournemouth and West Hampshire Water continued to receive very few complaints when taking into account the population each company serves (complaints per 10,000 customers).

However, there are still a number of water companies that need to make further improvements. For example, despite reductions in complaints last year, South East Water, United Utilities, and South West Water still received nearly double the industry’s average number of complaints per customer served.

Furthermore, numbers of complaints have not dropped to the level that they were before the dramatic rise complaints began. On average, water companies are only part way through what the Consumer Council for Water sees as an appropriate recovery, as complaints are still 33 per cent higher than they were in 2004.

Dame Yve Buckland, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Water customers are used to hearing about year on year rises in complaints, but we’ve been working hard to put pressure on water companies, particularly those with poor complaint numbers, to improve their performance. We are beginning to see progress from many of them.

“Unfortunately, there are still a few companies who are letting their customers down when it comes to service.

“Despite a nine per cent drop in complaints, South East Water continues to be one of the worst performing companies in the industry. It is particularly poor for a smaller company that only provides water, and is not involved in the sewerage side of the business.

“Although complaints to United Utilities dropped by 16 per cent last year the company is recovering from a period of high numbers of complaints. It has a lot of work to do to bring service levels more in line with the rest of the industry.

“South West Water’s complaints dropped by 5 per cent last year. But the company’s higher than average complaint numbers have traditionally been linked to it’s higher than average prices, and South West Water must work harder to prove to customers that their services are good value for money.

“Furthermore, while complaints in England have dropped, in Wales it is a different story, with water complaints to D?r Cymru Welsh Water up by nearly six per cent and Dee Valley Water up by 44 per cent.

“Many customers are satisfied with the service provided by their water company, but if something goes wrong, we know that customers want the problem to be sorted out, and quickly.

“The industry still has much more work to do and we will continue to call for improvements to ensure that the year on year trend of rising complaints is well and truly behind us.”

In the five years since the Consumer Council for Water began, it has helped customers secure over £10 million in compensation and rebates from water companies and taken over 78,000 complaints about water companies’ services. The water watchdog has also encouraged companies to share their profits with consumers, worth an extra £135 million in benefits through extra investments or reduced prices for consumers.

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