A lack of emergency water supplies and poor communication from some water companies made life needlessly more difficult for thousands of homes and businesses when they were left without running water during March’s severe cold weather.
That’s according to new research released today (Tuesday) by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) to coincide with the publication of Ofwat’s review of the disruption. The research sheds light on the experiences of consumers across some of the worst-affected water company regions.
Companies reported to Ofwat that more than 200,000 customers across England and Wales suffered a loss of supply of four hours or longer following the sudden thaw.2
The Water Watchdog’s study found nearly three quarters of households and businesses that were off supply due to their water company’s network did not receive any alternative emergency supplies of water. Consumers who found themselves in vulnerable circumstances were among the worst affected, with the vast majority (93%) saying they did not get any additional support from their company.
CCWater is now calling on all water companies – including those whose customers were not cut off – to act on its research findings, which also show about two out of five consumers were left in the dark with no communication from their water company. In some instances there was an over-reliance on a single social media channel.
Tony Smith, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “The most affected consumers felt badly let down by their water company, with little or no information and in many cases insufficient alternative supplies of water even for the most vulnerable households.”
“As well as good compensation, consumers will want to see companies heavily penalised if they don’t act now to put these failures right.”
CCWater supported many consumers with complaints and enquiries during the disruption and successfully led calls for water companies to go above and beyond standard levels of compensation guaranteed by the industry.
According to the study, the majority of households (84%) were satisfied with the amount of compensation they expected to receive. However, significantly fewer businesses were satisfied (62%) with the compensation settlement which many felt would fail to cover their losses. CCWater has recommended a review be carried out of the statutory compensation scheme – called the Guaranteed Standards Scheme (GSS) – to ensure it is fit for purpose for any major incidents in the future.
The Water Watchdog will be pressing the industry to take on board its research report recommendations. These include steps to provide information quicker and more effectively to consumers, with more ‘feet on the ground’ to reach people. Improvements should also be made to the provision of emergency water through more local water stations and door-to-door distribution, along with better support for businesses that rely heavily on water.
For more information or to arrange an interview with our Chief Executive Tony Smith, please call 0121 345 1005.
1 Our research covered regions supplied by Thames Water, South East Water, Affinity Water, Southern Water, Severn Trent Water, South West Water and Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. The research included almost 1,300 telephone interviews with consumers in these supply areas. Additional focus groups were also held with households, as well as in –depth interviews with consumers in vulnerable circumstances and businesses.
2 The majority of companies were able to restore supply to most customers within 12 hours – but over 60,000 customers were without supply for over 12 hours and over 36,000 were impacted for more than 24 hours.