All businesses deserve a good service from their water retailer and for a swift resolution to problems when they occur but too many customers are still having to make a complaint.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) is calling for improvements to make life easier for customers already facing the immense challenge of running a business during Covid-19.
New figures released by CCW show that written complaints from business customers to their supplier rose by 5 per cent during 2020-21. And despite a fall in the number of disputes escalated by customers to CCW, the watchdog still handled over three times more complaints than before the retail water market opened in England in 2017.1
Castle Water and Water Plus continued to cause customers and CCW the most difficulties with complaints. The two largest retailers accounted for 7 out of 10 written complaints across England and Wales and dominated about 74 per cent of the disputes escalated to CCW.
Concerns over inaccurate bills and charging accounted for three-quarters of complaints to the watchdog. Business customer disputes also resulted in 50 per cent more formal investigations from CCW into the most serious complaint-handling failures when compared to households.
This goes some way to explaining why only 69 per cent of business customers told CCW they were satisfied with their retail water services. Satisfaction levels were far higher among business customers when it came to their water supply or sewerage service.2
Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), said:
“The retail water market promised to deliver better service standards for businesses but four years on and that is still not the experience for all customers.”
“About a third of business customers have told us they have been severely impacted by the pandemic and what they need are retailers and water companies that are actively seeking to help them – not making life even more difficult through inaccurate bills or unresponsive customer service.”
The year began with most businesses in lockdown due to Covid-19 and CCW worked closely with retailers to make sure they reached out to business customers to inform them of the help and support available to them. CCW also pressed for strong protection from heavy-handed debt recovery and the kind of poor service that can lead to inaccurate estimated bills.
Some retailers responded well to the challenge but CCW saw a surge in complaints from customers of Castle Water as many businesses began to reopen last summer. Often these customers complained they could not get through to the retailer to resolve problems mostly relating to estimated bills and debt recovery.
Castle Water was one of only two companies to generate an increase in complaints to CCW from its customers during the year.
In stark contrast another large retailer – Water2Business – built on its already strong position with a 62 per cent fall in complaints to CCW during the year to cement its place as one of the best performing retailers. It has consistently generated low levels of complaints despite its large customer base.
Another leading performer on both complaint measures was First Business Water. CCW will work closely with both these retailers and other good performers in the coming months to identify and share examples of best practice that can help drive improvements across the sector.
Retailer Wave highlighted what can be achieved by piloting a new internal escalation process that provided director oversight for escalated complaints. This was so successful that it was rolled out across the organisation and resulted in investigations raised against Wave by CCW falling by almost three-quarters.
CCW will draw together examples of best practice and use its insights from complaint handling to drive improvements from poor performing retailers and improve standards across the sector.
In the coming months it will also be making it easier for business customers to track retailers’ complaints performance on its website throughout the year to help inform their decisions when shopping around for a better deal. CCW’s research has shown the lure of better service is a growing factor in business customers’ motivation to switch.
Notes to editors
1 The report examines complaints made by business customers against water retailers in England and water companies in Wales. Since April 2017 most business customers in England have been able to choose the provider of their water retail services, which includes billing and customer service. Only business customers using more than 50 megalitres of water a year can currently choose their water retailer in Wales.
2 Findings taken from CCW’s Testing the Waters research published in July 2021.