Industry to face Ofwat probe into post-freeze supply losses

Ofwat is to probe the water supply disruptions and other issues experienced by customers in England and Wales during the recent cold weather.

The regulator aims to establish the causes of the issues and assess the water companies’ preparations ahead of the well-flagged cold snap including an appraisal of the resources and processes they had in place.

Ofwat chief, Rachel Fletcher (pictured), said “We’ll find out where companies did well by their customers and where they’ve fallen short.”

She emphasised the importance of swift and sufficient compensation payments by water companies to affected customers: “Water companies should ensure that compensation adequately reflects the scale of inconvenience and distress caused to their customers,” she said.

“Compensation should be fair, fast and free from hassle for customers,” Fletcher added.

As well as an evaluation of the compensation on offer, Ofwat said the review will include:

an examination of the quality of the support provided to customers, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances;

an assessment of the companies’ deployment of resources to deal with problems including “distribution of bottled water, speed and effectiveness of repairs, management oversight and governance”; and

an appraisal of the companies’ communications with householders and businesses that were affected by the issues.

Ofwat said it will quiz various groups for its review including: households and businesses who were directly affected by supply issues, public representatives, community organisations and local authorities.

The regulator warned that should analysis of its findings reveal company breaches of its statutory obligations or licence conditions, Ofwat will consider the need for further regulatory enforcement.

Fletcher said: the regulator was “aiming to get to the bottom of why [the loss of supply] happened and to identify what lessons can be learned so customers experience minimum disruption in these kinds of circumstances in future.”

Ofwat said it will work with the Consumer Council for Water during the review and liaise with Defra and the Welsh government. It has scheduled publication of its conclusions by 15 June 2018.