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Regulator may need to step in to tackle poor water market performers

Regulatory action may be needed to tackle the root causes of rising complaints from business customers about their water and sewerage services, the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has warned.

The Water Watchdog says poor performing retailers and wholesalers may need to face tougher sanctions after experiencing another increase in complaints from disgruntled businesses and other non-household customers during the final quarter of 2018/19.

Almost three-quarters of the 1,078 grievances handled by CCWater were about problems relating to billing and charges during the last three months of the year – the second worst quarter for complaints since the retail water market opened in April 2017.

It’s also the second successive year the consumer group has seen a substantial overall rise in non-household complaints. Three of the largest retailers – Water Plus, Castle Water and Wave – accounted for almost four out of five of these cases. That is a disproportionately high number compared to their collective market share.

Dr Mike Keil, Head of Policy and Research at the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Retailers and wholesalers have had enough time to address many of the same problems that continue to impact the service customers receive.”

“We’re rapidly approaching a point where we may need Ofwat to step in and take action if there is evidence that companies have breached market codes or not met their obligations to customers.”

CCWater is now handling almost five times more complaints from non-household customers than before the market opened. These make up only a fraction of the much larger number of cases that are made directly to the companies.

Many billing complaints can be traced back to lengthy delays, in some cases of over a year, in meters being read – landing the customer with an inaccurate bill. Poor communication and disputes between retailers and wholesalers also continue to cause pinch points, although collaboration is beginning to improve.

The best and worst performing retailers will be highlighted when CCWater publishes a league table in July.


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