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Water company progress ‘stalls’ as more than two million customers report issues

Southern Water remained the industry’s worst performer for complaints.

Water customers had to make more than two million calls to resolve problems last year as progress by companies on service “stalled”, figures show.

The number of customers who had to phone their water company to resolve an issue increased by more than 40,000 to 2.14 million, the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) said.

The watchdog’s annual report shows that 12 of the 21 water companies in England and Wales saw a fall in the number of written complaints from customers over the last 12 months, with overall written complaints down by 11% to 95,274.

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

The watchdog said it was “particularly concerned” about the performance of Cambridge Water, which reported the largest rise in written complaints of almost 250% and saw “unwanted contacts” – when a customer had to phone to resolve an issue – increase by 37%.

CCWater has asked Cambridge Water to report back by the end of October to explain what steps it is taking to improve its service.

Other companies now facing closer scrutiny by the watchdog include Thames Water and SES Water, which both saw an increase in written and phone complaints and queries from their customers.

Southern Water remained the industry’s worst performer for complaints despite seeing the largest reduction in customers writing to it to complain.

Welsh Water and Affinity Water had also “responded positively to pressure from CCWater to improve”, but the watchdog warned they had more to do.

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.”

Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said CCWater’s report showed that the number of times consumers had to contact their company had “slightly” increased, but was a “considerable drop from the figure of more than six million calls in 2009/10”.

Mr 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 billion of pounds over the next few years and increasing their focus on customer service.”

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