Poorer performers warned after ten water companies report rise in complaints

The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has warned poorer performing water companies to improve their service after it emerged almost half the industry saw a rise in customer complaints last year.

Today’s (September 21) report by the consumer watchdog reveals that ten out of the 21 water companies in England and Wales saw an increase in written customer complaints in 2015/16 – with some reporting substantial rises.

The overall number of written complaints to the industry did fall for an eighth successive year, but only marginally by 0.5 per cent – down from 106,693 to 106,196. Telephone calls made by customers to water companies to resolve problems also continued to fall1.

Tony Smith, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “What is particularly alarming is the very substantial increase in complaints some companies have reported.”

“We can’t allow the good progress that has been made by the industry in recent years to be reversed. That’s why we have asked four of the poorest performing companies to report to us by the end of October on what action they have taken, or are planning to take, to reduce complaints.”

The report shows that non-household customers, which includes all businesses, were almost twice as likely to complain to their water company than household customers. But companies who continue to deliver poor service could face a backlash next April when non-household customers in England will be able to switch to a different water retailer to provide services including billing, meter reading and customer service.

Southern Water remained the industry’s worst overall performer for the fourth successive year after more than a ten per cent rise in written customer complaints during 2015/16. Complaints to Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water more than doubled, while Bournemouth Water (up 90.6 per cent) and Affinity Water (up 82.3 per cent) also reported large increases in complaints.

CCWater has asked all four of these companies to report back to the watchdog by the end of October 2016 with an explanation of what steps they have taken or are planning to take to drive down complaints.

South East Water reported the largest reduction in complaints (down 38.2 per cent) with South Staffs Water (down 32.5 per cent), Severn Trent Water (down 27.8 per cent), Bristol Water (down 23.5 per cent) and Thames Water (down 22.9 per cent) also reporting large falls.

Wessex Water cemented its place as the best performing water and sewerage company with another 19.2 per cent reduction in written complaints. Portsmouth Water (down 18.9 per cent) regained top spot as both the leading water only company and within the whole industry.

You can read the full CCWater report here (pdf)


1 CCWater’s report focuses primarily on written complaints made by customers as these provide the most comparable and consistent way of assessing the performance of each water company. Information on unwanted telephone contacts is also included in the report. But these do not exclusively include complaints and can cover a wide range of telephone calls where customers have reported a service issue or had to chase their water company for action to be taken.

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