While two thirds of people are happy with the water services they receive, only around a third of customers would trust their water company to fix a problem quickly and just over a quarter think companies act in the interests of people and the environment, respectively.
Ofwat and CCW have today published joint customer research exploring issues such as understanding and awareness of water companies, affordability and trust.
The research found that customers’ priorities are focused on the core services –providing clean safe drinking water and preventing sewage from entering homes and rivers.
Many customers have little contact with their company and have low awareness of the support that companies offer, or the range of things companies do.
The report also found:
• More than a third of customers (34%) struggle to pay bills fairly frequently, yet only 4% of bill payers reported receiving financial help from their water company over the past year.
• Just over 7 in 10 (71%) people said they would recommend their water provider to a family member or friend. This is in line with the proportion who would recommend their electricity provider (71%) and gas provider (72%).
• Knowledge of the water sector was found to be mixed, with most people (83%) reporting that they know who provides water to their home, but fewer than 4 in 10 are aware they cannot change their water provider.
• Engagement with water companies was found to be fairly low, with 44% of those surveyed stating they have never contacted their water company, and an additional 19% saying they have not contacted the company within the last three years.
• A minority of people think companies act in the interests of customers (27%), the environment (27%) and the local community (29%).
On water efficiency, many customers realise there’s more they could do to save water and recognise the role individuals can play. However the research also suggests that even customers who feel they’re playing their part, could be doing more. 48% of people feel they are already doing as much as they can to save water in the home despite some of these people not taking straightforward actions such as using a washing up bowl.
Customers do not tend to see reducing water use in the home or garden as a priority activity for achieving net zero or climate change. Only 9% of those familiar with the term net zero ranked this as a priority compared to higher rankings for activities such as recycling, suggesting there is still work to be done in the water sector to encourage more water saving behaviours.
Overall, the research suggests that some customers are generally happy with the service they receive, with no need to contact their company. However, low customer engagement is a cause for concern as it may mean that customers in need of financial or priority services support are not aware that support is available for them. Lack of engagement with companies could also mean customers are receiving limited information and knowledge on how they can do more to save water and engage in positive environmental behaviours.
David Black, Ofwat interim Chief Executive, said:
“When it comes to the delivery of core water services, this research suggests many customers are satisfied with the service they’re getting. However, it is concerning that there is low confidence and trust that water companies are acting in the public interest, and not enough awareness of support for those in need.
“As times get tougher, and concerns mount about water companies’ impact on the environment, companies need to do much more to build trust and to demonstrate that they are acting in the public interest.”
Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said:
“While it’s encouraging that customers are broadly satisfied with the services they receive, these findings underline just how critical it is for water companies to strengthen their relationships with the communities they serve.”
“One of our priorities is making sure everyone values water as pressure mounts on our resources and that depends on water companies raising their game and providing greater transparency on their environmental performance. Our review of water affordability has also set out a clear path to strengthening the support for those facing financial hardship.”
This is the first time Ofwat and CCW have conducted a comprehensive audit of household water customers’ knowledge, satisfaction, trust, priorities and behaviour.
This data provides a benchmark for future years and Ofwat and CCW will continue to collect this data.