Essex and Suffolk Water told to improve after spike in complaints

Essex and Suffolk Water has been warned by the consumer watchdog that it must show a marked improvement after reporting a sharp rise in complaints.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has called on the supplier to reverse a 28 per cent increase in the number of customers that had to pick up the phone to resolve service problems in 2018/19.1 Written complaints to the company also more than doubled during the year.

It’s one of four companies across England and Wales that have been challenged over their poor performance in the consumer group’s annual household complaints report (pdf). Essex and Suffolk Water must now provide CCWater with quarterly reports highlighting what steps it is taking to get back on track.

Professor Bernard Crump, Central and Eastern Chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “The company struggled to cope with the extra contact that was generated by its new billing system, which caused a lot of frustration for some customers.”

“We hope Essex and Suffolk Water is now over the worst of it but we want to see clear evidence over the coming months that complaints are falling and customers are seeing real benefits from the changes to billing.”

More staff were drafted in to deal with a steep rise in contact from households who encountered difficulties with the billing changes and were left frustrated by longer waiting times and abandoned calls. It meant Essex and Suffolk Water was the second worst performing company in England and Wales for complaints about billing and charges, based on CCWater’s comparative measure.2

However, there was no noticeable impact on the number of its customers that were forced to turn to CCWater for help. That suggests the company resolved complaints effectively once people were able to get through.

Across England and Wales as a whole, households had to make just over 2 million calls to water companies to resolve issues with service – about 60,000 less than the previous year. That outweighed the increase in complaints made in writing which rose by nearly 5,400.

More customers needed CCWater’s support resolving a dispute in 2018/19 as the watchdog stepped in to help return over £600,000 in financial redress to households that were let down by their supplier.

You can read the full CCWater report here (pdf)