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  • by Trevor Loveday

Gripe calls fall but watchdog puts firms "on report" as written complaints spike

A year-on-year decrease of more than 60,000 in telephoned complaints to water companies in 2018/19 to about 2m was partially offset by a 5,400 hike in written gripes, to some 74,700 according to the annual report on household complaints by water users’ watchdog, the Consumer Council Water (CC Water).

And the number of households who had to turn to CCWater during the year for aid in resolving a dispute after reaching a dead end with their company was up by over 400 to 7,237. The watchdog has put “on report” four companies whose performances “have caused the greatest concern” after problems with bills and disruption to services produced a “sharp rise” in customer complaints.

The four – Thames Water; Northumbrian Water and its subsidiary, Essex and Suffolk Water; and Hafren Dyfrdwy – have been asked to provide quarterly reports highlighting action they have already taken and what else they plan to do to reduce complaints.

Almost half of customer complaints related to bills or charges but grievances over water supply and pressure were up 28% as companies struggled to manage the challenges posed by a cold spring and extraordinarily hot summer.

CCWater said it was looking to these companies to respond to its challenges in the way that Bournemouth Water has “transformed itself into one of the industry’s best performers” following criticism for a sharp rise in written complaints in 2015/16. It pointed out Southern Water, SES Water and Bristol Water for their “significant strides towards improving their standing in the industry after attracting strong criticism from the watchdog 12 months ago.”

Anglian Water remains the best performing water and sewerage company for calls to resolve problems, and its written complaints fell marginally on the previous year.

CC Water chief executive, Tony Smith (pictured), said: “In the autumn we’ll be bringing the whole industry together to try and improve the standards of billing, as well as demanding a significant fall in the complaints made to the four poor performers named in our report.”

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