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Companies submit improvement plans after Beast from the East

Water companies across England and Wales will today (28 September) submit plans detailing how they are addressing the shortcomings identified in their handling of the Beast from the East.

Ofwat’s review into company performance, published in June, found a mixed picture, with some companies responding well and protecting customers, but others falling short with their advance planning, response and communication with customers.

Four companies in particular were found to have let their customers down – Thames Water, Severn Trent, Southern Water and South East Water – and they have been specifically required to submit to Ofwat a detailed, externally assured action plan.

Ofwat will now carefully scrutinise the companies’ plans and intends to publish a response by mid-November. If the regulator believes that any company’s plan does not go far enough, it will step in.

Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher said: "The harsh weather in the spring left many customers out in the cold with no running water, in some cases for days.

"While a number of water companies and their hard-working staff stepped up and did well by customers, others fell well short, particularly when it came to providing bottled water, help for the most vulnerable, or clear, timely communication.

"We expect the companies that let their customers down to have learned the lessons of what went wrong during the freeze/thaw, and to show that they are now prepared to protect their customers, whatever the weather brings. This would be a great result for customers. If companies do not convince us of this, we won’t hesitate to step in."

Research conducted by the Consumer Council for Water following this incident revealed that consumers felt let down by poor communication, a lack of emergency water supplies and a failure to provide adequate support for consumers in vulnerable circumstances.

Tony Smith, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Water companies need to prove that they have listened to consumers and really learned lessons from the service failures we witnessed in March.

“Customers will want to know that these plans are tested and ready, and we’ll be expecting a tough response from Ofwat should any of the company plans fail, or further problems occur in future.”

In the foreword to Thames' Freeze Thaw Report, CEO Steve Robertson said: "Actions to fundamentally improve our response have been put in place. We cannot promise that a similar incident will not happen in the future. What we can promise is that our ability to manage the impact will be transformed.

"My team and I will make sure that the legacy of the Beast from the East not only results in major improvements in the way that we manage similar incidents. It will also act as the blueprint as to how we best engage all of our customers over the long term to understand their needs, protect them, and give them the support they need when the critical services we are responsible for providing are interrupted."

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: ofwat , water companies , Southern Water , Thames Water , South East Water , Severn Trent Water , Beast from the East

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