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Cambridge, Thames and SES Water see rise in customer complaints

Cambridge Water, Thames Water and SES Water face increased scrutiny from the industry's consumer watchdog following poor performance on complaints, revealed in the Consumer Council for Water's (CCWater) annual report.

Cambridge Water, Thames Water and SES Water face increased scrutiny from the industry’s consumer watchdog following poor performance on complaints, revealed in the CCWater's annual report.

Cambridge Water has seen written complaints soar by nearly 250% – the biggest rise of any water company – and ‘unwanted’ contacts rise by more than 37%. CCWater has asked the company to report back by the end of October on the steps it has taken to improve its service.

Phil Newland, managing director at Cambridge Water, said: “We`re extremely disappointed with the level of complaints received during 2016/2017 as for many years we have been one of the industry’s top performing companies. We received 488 complaints last year compared to our usual average of around 190 per year. We understand the reasons behind this increase and are working hard to ensure that we quickly restore our performance back to the excellent levels our Cambridge customers have historically enjoyed.”

Thames Water and SES Water both recorded an increase in written complaints and unwanted contacts. A spokesman for Thames said: "We’re resolving complaints quicker than ever before – with our best ever performance in written complaint resolution last year – and the number coming into our contact centres has fallen significantly over the last five years. We know there’s still more to do and we’ve increased our focus to make improvements to customer service."

Southern Water remains the industry’s worst performer on both written complaints and unwanted contacts, despite seeing the largest reduction in written complaints. CCWater wants to see further improvement from Southern Water, Welsh Water and Affinity Water. The watchdog said Welsh Water and Affinity Water had ‘responded positively’ to pressure but ‘have more to do’.

Across the UK’s 21 water companies, ‘unwanted’ contacts, where a customer calls their water company with an issue ‘unwanted’ from their perspective, rose by more than 40,000 to 2.14 million. However written complaints fell by 11%, down from 106,839 to 95,274.

CCWater chief executive Tony Smith 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 two million contacts from customers last year to resolve issues which they should get right first time. We’ll be challenging all of the industry to deliver an even better service, but particularly the poorest performers.”

Billing and charges accounted for more than half (57%) of customers’ written complaints to water companies, ahead of concerns about water supplies (17%) and sewerage (12%).

The largest reductions in written complaints were recorded by Dee Valley Water (down 35%), South East Water (down 30%) and Bournemouth Water (down 33%).

In response to the numbers, Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “The many improvements made by water companies is making a difference, with written complaints falling below 100,000 for the first time and a significant fall in the number of issues having to be dealt with over the phone since 2010. But as an industry 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.”


A version of this article first appeared on Utility Week

Author: Ellen Bennett,
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: water companies , customer service , Thames Water , Southern Water , consumer

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