Quarterly retail complaints hit record high says consumer watchdog

Business customer complaints about retailers to the Consumer Council for Water (CC Water) hit a record high during the second quarter of 2018/19. The watchdog received 1,110 complaints between 1 July and 30 September this year, making it the worst quarter since the market opened in April 2017.

CC Water reported that the increase has undermined the improvements made during the first three months of 2018/19 when complaints fell for the first time since market opening.

One of the biggest reasons for the increase was a 64% rise in complaints about one of the market’s largest retailers – Water Plus – compared to the previous quarter. Andy Hughes, chief executive of Water Plus, said: "Complaints earlier in 2018 were much higher than any of us would have liked and, unfortunately, we saw a short-term increase due to the work we completed on a considerable number of open complaints. We’ve been working closely with the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) providing them with regular updates on our plans and the significant progress we’ve made. Earlier this year, we made a substantial investment in our teams and processes and our huge efforts mean we’ve seen a 40% reduction in our incoming complaints in the last three months.”

CCWater has held a series of meetings with Water Plus to establish the root causes of its customers’ grievances and what steps it is taking to get back on track. Robert Light, northern chair for the CC Water, said: “We are working with Water Plus to help them resolve many of the long-standing issues that have generated their increase in complaints and we expect the company to significantly improve its performance in the coming months.”

Complaints from non-household customers during the second quarter of 2018/19 were almost double what they were at the same time last year – with billing and charges being the main cause for the increase in complaints. Evan Joanette, policy manager at CC water, said: “We’re disappointed that some retailers have not been able to keep up the momentum we witnessed during the spring. Poor performers should be under no illusion that we will publicly hold them to account if they don’t get their act together. The market is well-established now – there’s no room for excuses.”

However, the watchdog reported that around half of retailers were able to sustain the improved performance on complaints we saw from them in the first quarter of this year. It said some companies have developed better guidance and taken up training with the market operator, MOSL, to help improve the delivery of services like trade effluent charging.

CC Water also pointed out wholesalers also have an important role to play in helping to resolve some of the issues that customers encounter. It recently hosted a workshop which brought together more than 20 retailers and wholesalers to share good practice and look at ways to resolve customers’ most pressing concerns.

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