Southern Water Sees Big Rise In Complaints

2 October 2013, 15:07

Southern Water's promised to improve after a 77 percent rise in written complaints, in the last year.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater)’s annual Written Customer Complaints Report has revealed a 7.4 per cent reduction in the number of written complaints made by customers against water companies in England and Wales, although the fall is less than the previous year’s 12 per cent drop.

Telephone calls made by customers to companies to resolve problems have also fallen broadly in line with written complaints, with a similar slowing in that trend this year.

However, Southern Water - which covers Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and West Sussex - had 77% more complaints than the previous year, making it the worst performing company.

Tony Smith, chief executive of CCWater, said:

“We are concerned the rate at which complaints have fallen has slowed and the poorest performers remain too far behind the rest of the industry.

“CCWater continues to meet regularly with water companies to put pressure on them to prioritise customer service in order to see their complaint levels drop much further. We also continue to tell the regulator Ofwat that there needs to be stronger penalties for water companies who are failing to satisfy the expectations of their customers.”

Billing and charges remains the biggest area of concern for customers, accounting for over 56 per cent of the total 150,942 written complaints made in the year to 31 March 2013.

And with water price limits for 2015 to 2020 set to be agreed next year, CCWater has warned companies they could face a backlash with customer complaints if they fail to deliver clear value for money.

The water watchdog also remains concerned that the poorest performing companies are still lagging too far behind the rest of the industry on complaint numbers.

These include Southern Water which saw the biggest surge in written complaints – a 77 per cent increase compared to the previous year – making it the worst performing company.

In a statement, Southern Water said:

'Southern Water has promised to improve the service it offers customers after receiving an unacceptable number of written complaints in 2012/13.

'Since the beginning of this financial year, the company has taken action to make things better for its customers.

'This has already resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in written complaints in June, July and August this year compared to the same period last year.

'As part of its improvement plan, the company has brought in a new customer senior management team, including Chief Customer Officer Darren Bentham.'

Darren said:

"I'd like to apologise for letting our customers down.

"Simply put, our service has not been good enough and these figures are unacceptable ­ but we¹re doing something about it.

"We¹ve carried out a major review of almost every aspect of our work with customers and have made some key changes.