Affordable water bills vital to continue downward trend of complaints

CUSTOMER complaints to water companies have plunged for the sixth successive year – but the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has warned the tide could quickly turn against the industry if it fails to deliver affordable bills.

CCWater’s annual Written Customer Complaints report has today (September 15) revealed most water companies have again responded positively to the water watchdog’s challenge to drive down complaints by improving their service to customers.

The number of written complaints made by customers to water companies in England and Wales fell during 2013/14 by 18 per cent – more than twice the rate of decline seen the previous year.

Telephone calls made by customers to water companies to resolve problems have also continued to fall broadly in line with written complaints.

Tony Smith, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Most water companies have responded well to our challenge to improve performance, with complaints now at their lowest level since we were formed in 2005.”

“But affordability remains a huge challenge for the industry with one in five customers telling us their water bill is not affordable. Water companies and the regulator Ofwat must deliver prices for the next five years that customers can afford and find acceptable or risk a backlash from struggling households.”

The report shows billing and charges accounted for 57 per cent of the total 123,218 customer complaints in 2013/14. One of the ways water companies can reduce these types of complaint in the future is by ensuring customers get the services they want at a price they accept and can afford.

CCWater has been working hard to ensure this happens by making sure water customers’ views have driven the price setting process more than ever before. And the watchdog will be keeping up the pressure on the regulator Ofwat to deliver the best possible deal for customers when it sets price limits for 2015 to 2020 in December 2014.

The two worst performing companies for complaints – Southern Water and South East Water – remain too far adrift of the rest of the industry, despite both reporting a reduction in complaints compared to 2012/13.

CCWater has continually called for the regulator to hit any poor performing company with tougher penalties when they fall short of customers’ expectations.

The water watchdog was also disappointed to see that four companies – South West Water, Affinity Water, Severn Trent Water and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water – bucked the industry trend and reported an increase in complaints.

Wessex Water, Portsmouth Water and Cambridge Water continue to be the industry’s best performers, while Thames Water responded well to CCWater pressure to improve by reducing complaints by almost a third.

You can read the full report here (pdf)

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