Water companies cannot afford repeat of Beast from the East failures

Some water companies could be skating on thin ice unless they are better prepared to meet the needs of all consumers during any major disruption to water supplies.

That’s the view of the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) after assessing the action plans submitted by a group of water companies whose consumers’ supplies were among the worst affected during March’s prolonged blast of freezing weather.

The Water Watchdog has shared its views with Ofwat ahead of the regulator publishing its responses to the plans of four companies whose handling of the disruption raised the most serious concerns. These were Thames Water, Severn Trent, South East Water and Southern Water, although CCWater expects the whole industry to learn lessons from the review.

The Water Watchdog says companies have started to take steps to address the shortcomings identified in its own research with consumers affected by the Beast from the East. But CCWater is not convinced that some of the plans go far enough in improving each company’s approach to communicating with their consumers during disruption or ensuring additional support – such as emergency bottled water – reaches everyone who needs it. It also wants to see some of the planned measures put in place quicker.

CCWater has welcomed a series of short and long-term recommendations tabled by Ofwat to bolster the amount of compensation automatically paid to customers affected by supply disruption.

Tony Smith, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “These water companies cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes which made life more difficult for consumers than it needed to be.”

“We welcome the move to boost compensation but the most important thing is making sure all consumers – including those in vulnerable circumstances – get the support they need during any supply disruption. That includes good communication and extra help accessing emergency water where it’s needed. Ultimately companies will be judged on how well they handle the next major incident – if they come up short again we will expect the regulator to hit them hard.”

CCWater will continue to work with the industry to make sure free additional support services – like the home delivery of emergency bottled water – are readily available to all consumers when their circumstances require it. This should include people who suddenly find themselves in a more vulnerable position, due to illness, bereavement or other unexpected events – including another bout of severe weather.

And the watchdog will also press water companies to make sure the information and channels they use to communicate are tailored to meet the needs of all affected domestic and non-household consumers.

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