Northumbrian Water has been warned by the consumer watchdog it must show a marked improvement after reporting a sharp rise in complaints.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has called on the north-east supplier to reverse a 13 per cent rise in customers having to pick up the phone to resolve service problems, along with a 64.5 per cent spike in written complaints during 2018/19.1
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. Northumbrian Water must now provide CCWater with quarterly reports highlighting what steps it is taking to get back on track.
Robert Light, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “The rollout of a new billing system by Northumbrian Water has caused much of the frustration for customers, many of whom struggled to get through to the company.”
“We hope the company 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 Northumbrian Water was the third 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 households it supplies that were forced to turn to CCWater for help. That suggests the company resolved complaints effectively once customers 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.
However, 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.