Written gripes drop but phone complaints take an upturn says watchdog

An 11% drop in the numbers of written complaints to water companies last year to just under 95,300 was offset by a 2% hike in telephoned complaints to more than 2 million according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).

In its annual report the water watchdog showed that 12 water companies in England and Wales saw written complaints from customers in 2016/17 fall from 106,839 to 95,274. But “unwanted contacts” by telephone increased by more than 40,000 to 2.14 million the watchdog reported.

Chief Executive of the Consumer Council for Water, Tony Smith (pictured),

said: “The service customers receive from their water company has generally improved over the past decade, but that progress appears to have stalled. Water companies received more than 2 million contacts from customers last year to resolve issues which they should get right first time.”

Water UK said the number of written complaints was at an “all-time low” It said the current level of telephoned complaints demonstrated a “significant fall” since 2009/10 when the figure stood at 6 million. it added: “We want to keep getting better, and make sure the downward trend in complaints and the increase in customer satisfaction continues. That’s why companies are investing billions over the next few years and increasing their focus on customer service.”

CC Water said billing and charges accounted for 57% of customers’ written complaints to water companies, with concerns about water supplies at 17% and sewerage at 12%.

The watchdog said it was “particularly concerned about the performance of Cambridge Water which reported the largest rise in written complaints – up nearly 250% - and saw unwanted contacts increase by over 37%. The company has been asked to report back to the watchdog by the end of October to explain what steps it is taking to improve its service.

Cambridge managing director, Phil Newland indicated that the hike in customer dissatisfaction had its roots in company efforts to make swift cost-cutting changes. “Our efforts to reduce costs have had an unfortunate impact on the overall customer experience with an accompanying increase in complaints. We understand what went wrong and we are on a mission to put this right as quickly as possible. As a result of a lot of hard work, we are beginning to see improvements,” Newland said.

Thames Water and SES Water also face closer CC Water scrutiny after written complaints and unwanted contacts from their customers had taken an upturn. And the watchdog has called for further improvements from Southern Water, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Affinity Water.

Southern had the largest reduction in customers writing to it to complain yet it remained the industry’s worst performer on written and telephoned complaints. Other strong reductions in written gripes were recorded at Dee Valley Water (down 35%), South East Water (down 30%) and Bournemouth Water (down 33%) with each firm also reducing their unwanted contacts from customers.