Half of water firms see complaints increase

Water taps
Image caption Just over 60% of written complaints to water companies were about billing and charges

Customer complaints have increased at almost half the water companies in England and Wales, with some seeing "alarming" surges, a watchdog has said.

Four have been told by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) to report back by the end of October to explain what they are doing to cut complaints.

Southern Water was the worst performer for the fourth year running, with 10.3% increase in complaints in 2015/2016.

The others were Bournemouth, Affinity and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water.

Across the industry, billing and charges, including debt recovery, accounted for just over 60% of written complaints in the last year.

Reverse trend

Southern, which serves Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, received about 77 complaints per 10,000 connections - more than double the industry average of 33.7.

Written complaints to Dwr Cymru increased by 115.1%, while Bournemouth Water's increased by 90.6%.

Affinity Water, which covers parts of Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey, west London, Kent and Essex, saw an increase of 82.3%.

Overall, 10 out of the 21 water companies in England and Wales saw an increase in written complaints in 2015-16.

Complaints have been going down in recent years but it is feared the trend could start to reverse.

The overall number of written complaints to the industry fell for an eighth year, but by only 0.5% to 106,196.

'Disappointed in performance'

"We can't allow the good progress that has been made by the industry in recent years to be reversed," said Tony Smith, chief executive of CCWater.

"That's why we have asked four of the poorest performing companies to report to us by the end of October."

Southern said it was disappointed in its performance but this had been improving since November.

It said the number of complaints received about water services was among the lowest in the industry but billing complaints pushed it into the bottom spot.

"So far this year, we have received approximately half the number of complaints we did in the first five months of 2015," said director Simon Oates.

"We are pleased to report back to CCW next month, and are confident the figures we submit will show a marked reduction in the number of complaints."

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