Fall in complaints but water companies told to do better

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Customer complaints against water companies have fallen for the fifth year in a row, however the worst performers are being warned they must do better.

The Consumer Council for Water’s (CCWater) annual Written Customer Complaints Report has revealed a 7.4 per cent reduction in the number of written complaints made by customers against water companies in England and Wales, although the fall is less than the previous year’s 12 per cent drop.

Telephone calls made by customers to companies to resolve problems have also fallen roughly in line with written complaints, with a similar slowing in that trend this year.

Tony Smith, chief executive of CCWater, said: “We are concerned the rate at which complaints have fallen has slowed and the poorest performers remain too far behind the rest of the industry.

“CCWater continues to meet regularly with water companies to put pressure on them to prioritise customer service in order to see their complaint levels drop much further. We also continue to tell the regulator Ofwat that there needs to be stronger penalties for water companies who are failing to satisfy the expectations of their customers.”

Billing and charges remains the biggest area of concern for customers, accounting for more than 56 per cent of the total 150,942 written complaints made in the year to March 31, 2013.

And with water price limits for 2015 to 2020 set to be agreed next year, CCWater has warned companies they could face a backlash with customer complaints if they fail to deliver clear value for money.

The water watchdog also remains concerned that the poorest performing companies are still lagging too far behind the rest of the industry on complaint numbers.

These include Southern Water which saw the biggest surge in written complaints – a 77 per cent increase compared to the previous year – making it the worst performing company. And despite a reduction of nearly 33 per cent, South East Water’s number of complaints remains twice the industry average.

But there were encouraging signs of progress in other parts of the country including the north west where United Utilities has worked closely with CCWater and invested in improving its customer service. This has reduced the company’s complaints by nearly 40 per cent, and although Thames Water reduced written complaints by 6.5 per cent, it remained the only company to fall short of CCWater’s target to resolve 90 per cent of complaints first time.