- Written complaints from business customers to water retailers rise for second successive year – now 52 per cent higher than before market opened in England
- Three retailers – Water Plus, Clear Water Business and Everflow – named poorest performers
- Water watchdog warns regulator may need to step in and take action
Three water retailers in England have been scolded for their poor performance after water and sewerage complaints from business customers rose sharply for the second successive year.
Today’s (Wednesday) report by the Consumer Council for Water (pdf) shows that many retailers have failed to stem the flow of complaints, which have risen rapidly since non-household customers in England were given the freedom to switch supplier two years ago.
The Water Watchdog has criticised the poor performance of the water market’s biggest retailer, Water Plus, along with smaller suppliers – Clear Business Water and Everflow – for their part in fuelling a 20 per cent increase in written complaints during 2018/19.
Eight retailers in England and one water company in Wales – where the market does not apply – saw complaints increase, with CCWater carrying out 58 investigations, more than double the previous year.
Overall, business customers had to make almost 18,000 written complaints to retailers and water companies during 2018/19 – meaning they are now 52 per cent higher than before the launch of competition. Inaccurate bills and disputes over charges also sparked a 43 per cent increase in complaints from businesses to CCWater.
A recent study by CCWater also found that satisfaction with water services and trust in water companies had fallen among non-household customers in England since the market had opened.
Robert Light, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Choice promised to improve service for business customers, but instead we are seeing complaints rising while customer satisfaction levels head in the opposite direction.”
“Poor performing retailers and water companies have had long enough to iron out these problems and the excuses won’t wash with us or customers. We want to see the regulator take action where companies are not fulfilling their obligations.”
Water Plus was the worst performing company as the complaints it received rose by more than 70 per cent, based on the number of customer supply points. CCWater investigated 21 complaints against the retailer – seven more than any other company- as it struggled to resolve billing problems. It has implemented an action plan after coming under pressure from CCWater to improve but this needs to deliver substantial improvements in the coming year.
Other companies to raise serious concerns were Clear Business Water, which was the worst performer for complaints made to the watchdog, and Everflow which has been criticised in the report for its slow response to customers.
CCWater will monitor the performance of retailers closely during the year and highlight the worst performers every quarter.
There was better news for customers of Business Stream, Affinity for Business, Water2Business and the companies in Wales – Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Hafren Dyfrdwy – who were among the best performers. First Business Water and the Water Retail Company also only received one written complaint, while many of the other smaller retailers did not report any.
Water companies, which continue to supply and treat water as well as maintaining the network, do not escape criticism in the report. Retailers reported almost one in four complaints made to them involved problems with wholesalers. CCWater has also helped many customers who have found themselves caught up in the middle of a dispute between the two parties.
Collaboration is beginning to improve but CCWater will continue to work with retailers and wholesalers to ensure communication is more seamless and complaints are resolved quickly for customers.
1 Since April 2017, most business, charity and public sector customers in England have been able to choose who supplies their retail water services, which includes billing, meter reading and customer service.
2 CCWater compares performance based on complaints per 10,000 supply points to take into account the large variations in the number of customers each retailer and company serves.