Water and sewerage companies in England and Wales provide services to millions of homes and businesses every day, with separate retailers managing the accounts of business customers. Usually water companies and retailers offer a good service, but sometimes things go wrong, leaving customers disappointed or angry.

CCW’s role is to offer independent help and advice to customers who have been unable to resolve a complaint with their water company or retailer. This factsheet explains the different stages of the complaints process. Where we say company throughout the rest of this factsheet, we’re referring to water companies and retailers.

The complaints process

In the first instance, the best option is to contact your water company and ask them to resolve your concerns. Their contact details will normally be on your bill. The simplest means of doing this would be to call them and discuss your concerns. Most problems can be resolved in this way.

If you cannot resolve your concerns over the phone, we recommend that you ask your company to treat the issue as a complaint. You may prefer to detail your concerns in writing. Your company should then investigate and formally respond to the problem.

Complaining to your water company

Companies deal with complaints in two stages, meaning that if you’re not happy with the first response you get, you can ask the company to review its decision. You might hear these two stages called a “stage one complaint” and a “stage two complaint”. This refers to the fact that you’re at the first or the second stage in the company’s complaints procedure.

At both stages of the process, companies are required to reply to your complaint within 10 working days of receiving it. If they fail to meet this timescale, then you will be entitled to a compensation payment under the Guaranteed Standards Scheme. If the company knows it is not going to be able to answer all your points within 10 working days it should tell you, explaining the reasons why, and giving you a date when it will be able to provide an answer.

Referring your complaint to CCW

If your company does not resolve your complaint to your satisfaction in either its first or second response, or if you made your complaint eight weeks ago and are not happy with what your company is doing to resolve it, you can come to CCW for us to take it up on your behalf. CCW is on your side, so we’ll represent your interests to the company. If we are unable to challenge your company, we’ll explain clearly to you why this is.

If you remain unhappy with your complaint resolution after CCW has looked at the matter, you are able to ask for an independent adjudicator to review your case and award what they consider to be an appropriate resolution. The adjudicator’s decision, if you choose to accept it, is binding upon your company.

Our top tips for making a clear complaint

When making your complaint, in our experience, it’s helpful to remember the following:

  • Be clear that you are making a complaint, not an enquiry, and want the company to treat it as such;
  • Be clear about the key issues of your complaint – if you’re making the complaint in writing, it helps to use bullet points rather than wordy paragraphs;
  • Try to put the events in order, what happened first, what happened next. It may be beneficial to create a timeline of events;
  • Provide evidence where possible. If you’re making a complaint by telephone, you might want to refer the company to specific bills or letters it has sent to you. If you’re making your complaint in writing, you might be able to include copies of relevant documents or evidence to support your complaint; and
  • Be clear in what you expect to be done to resolve your problem. What outcome are you aiming for? Do you expect an apology, action such as the company to visit your address to look at a problem, a bill to be revised?
  • Remember to raise all of your points. If you give new information or add a new issue later in the process, the company has the right to consider that separately, as a new complaint. That can delay getting the problem resolved.

At all times, remain polite and clear about what you want to achieve.

Your company should address all of your points in its response. It should also tell you when you have completed its complaints procedure, sometimes referred to as “exhausted” the procedure, and give you its final position in the matter. Your company should signpost you to CCW should you wish to take your complaint further.