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Companies failing to address bill concerns - CCWater

Water companies are failing to convince enough households their bills are fair and they provide value for money, according to a new report by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).

The consumer group’s latest annual Water Matters survey shows there remains a gulf between customers’ high satisfaction with their water and sewerage services and much lower satisfaction levels with the fairness of what they are charged.

Approximately six out of 10 households across England and Wales think what they pay their water company is fair, despite the vast majority (nine out of 10) of customers being satisfied with the service they receive when they turn on the tap or flush the loo.

CCWater has repeatedly warned the industry it could pay a high price for its complacency in changing customers’ views on the fairness of their bills, which have remained static for the past eight years. Satisfaction with value for money has also flatlined during that period at around 72 per cent for water services.

CCWater said the sector has "a golden opportunity to boost perceptions in the coming months" as AMP7 looms.

The decisions made and how companies communicate the changes with their customers could have a significant bearing on whether the industry is able to convince more households they are getting a fair deal.

Dr Mike Keil, head of policy and research for the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Customers’ perceptions over the fairness of their bills have languished behind satisfaction with service for almost a decade and companies cannot afford to ignore people’s concerns any longer.

“Fairness reflects people’s wider views and confidence in the industry and companies that are complacent run the risk of increasing discontent among their customers.”

Providing more information for customers throughout the year on the issues they care about is one effective way companies can begin to change people’s perceptions on fairness and value for money.

Customers want to know exactly how their cash is being used to tackle issues they care about like leakage and safeguarding the future of their water supply.

Many households need this reassurance from their company given that fewer customers (73 per cent, down from 77 per cent) have confidence their tap water supply will be available longer term without restrictions.

Prolonged heatwaves, like the one witnessed last summer, and growing awareness of climate change could erode confidence even further unless companies provide assurance they are taking the right action.

The affordability of customers’ bills also has a significant bearing on perceptions of fairness, and CCWater believes the industry needs to build on the good progress that has been made in helping the one in eight households struggling to afford their bills. That means more companies needing to put their hands in their pockets to boost schemes designed to help low-income customers.

Despite all of these challenges, trust in water companies has increased significantly over the past eight years and they are more trusted than energy suppliers.

The report also shows that customers in Wales are significantly more satisfied than households in England when it comes to most aspects of their water company, including service, value for money and fairness.

Welsh Water chief executive Chris Jones said: “Our not-for-profit way of working enables us to focus all of our efforts on meeting the needs and expectations of the people we provide services to – so it is encouraging that customers in Wales feel more positive about the services they receive, and have more trust in their company with this vital public resource.

“But we know we need to listen to our customers more than ever to build on these positive findings – and this report will provide a vital basis for us to work from.”

Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: "As always, the report provides valuable feedback on what customers think about their water and sewerage services.

"It looks like there’s still more work to be done on persuading customers about the fairness of bills, but average bills are roughly the same as they were 20 years ago in real terms and, on current plans, by 2025 there will have been a decade in real terms reductions. The report confirms that customers’ trust has increased significantly since 2011, and satisfaction with both water and sewerage services remains very high.

"It’s also reassuring to see the report explain that customers are more satisfied with their water provider than any other similar utility, and that perhaps explains why only 3 per cent of customers who contacted water companies did so to make a complaint."

You can read the Water Matters Highlights Report here and the full data report here

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: customer service , water bills , Consumer Council for Water , CCWater

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