Some water retailers risking customer backlash on complaints

Poor performing water retailers could face a backlash from their business customers if they fail to address the causes behind a high number of complaints during the first year of switching in England.

The warning comes from the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) as it today (Wednesday) reveals some of the best and worst performing water retailers for customer complaints since businesses in England were given the freedom to switch their supplier in April 2017.1

The Water Watchdog’s report (pdf) shows non-household customers made 14,885 written complaints to their supplier during the first 12 months of the water market in 2017/18 – up about 26 per cent on the previous year. Customer complaints made to CCWater about retailers also more than tripled – up over 230 per cent.2

Both increases were driven by a small number of poor performing retailers who were responsible for a disproportionate share of the rise in complaints. Almost two-thirds of complaints made to CCWater related to bills, with many of these business customers disputing the amount of water they had been charged for using.

However most of the market’s retailers appear to have adapted well to competition and avoided many of the service problems encountered by the poorer performers.

Tony Smith, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “We had expected complaints to rise as the market finds its feet but it’s now time for poorer performing retailers – including Castle Water, Wave and Water Plus – to get their act together.”

“Retailers who routinely deliver a poor service could start to see a backlash from businesses as their awareness of the market and right to shop around for a more reliable supplier continues to rise.”

CCWater’s report focuses on written complaints – and complaints received directly by the watchdog – as these provide the most reliable way of comparing each retailer but they only tell a small part of the story. Non-household customers also had to make over 46,500 telephone calls to resolve an issue with their supplier between January and March 2018.

Of the larger retailers, Castle Water received the most written complaints from customers based on the total number of supply points and was also the worst performer for complaints made to the Water Watchdog.3

The relatively poor performance of Anglian Water Business – now part of Wave – and Water Plus also resulted in both retailers being challenged by CCWater.

All three poor performers came under increasing pressure from CCWater during the year to address the root causes of complaints, and although Wave’s performance has now improved, Castle Water and Water Plus still need to make further improvements.

Among the best performers were SES Business, Water2business, Affinity for Business and Dee Valley Water, which is based in Wales where there is currently a limited competitive market.

CCWater will use the report’s findings to continue to press poorer performing retailers to come into line with the rest of the industry. But water company ‘wholesalers’, who continue to provide water and wastewater services to non-household customers, must also play their part by improving their own service and working relationship with retailers.

You can read the full report here (pdf)

For more information please call the media team on 0121 345 1005.

1 Retailers provide customer-facing services including billing, meter reading and customer administration.

2 These numbers include complaints made by non-household customers to water companies based in Wales where competition is limited to customers that use more than 50 megalitres of water each year. CCWater wanted to be able to compare the performance of these companies with retailers in England.

3 Castle Water received the most written complaints per 10,000 supply points for larger retailers. Three Sixty Water received only one complaint but appears as the worst performer in the comparison chart because of its very low number of supply points.

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