COMPLAINTS about water retailers have fallen for the first time since the majority of business customers in England were given the freedom to switch supplier.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) has revealed in their newest report that most water retailers improved their performance during 2019-20 as written complaints from business customers fell by almost a fifth.
It brings to an end two successive years of rising complaint levels among business customers in England, during which time overall satisfaction with retail water services, such as billing and meter reading, has fallen.
Rob Light, Chair of CCW, commented on their findings: “Many of the complaints and problems again boil down to a small number of the same poor performers who are falling short of the standards that customers have a right to expect.
“We now want to see a sustained fall in complaints with retailers quick to resolve disputes and slow to make excuses.
“Many business customers have had a tough time during coronavirus and the last thing they need is the stress of having to dispute bills or poor service.”
The CCWl has ‘welcomed the reduction in complaints but warned there remains a long way to go with the poor performance of a small number of retailers hampering progress.’
The consumer group still had to step in to resolve four times more disputes than before the market opened its doors to 1.2 million businesses and other non-household customers across England in April 2017.
There was also a sharp rise in the most serious case handling failures where CCW had to carry out a formal investigation.
Overall, business customers had to make more than 14,300 written complaints to water retailers in 2019-20 – a fall of nearly 20 per cent on the previous year.
Fewer customers (down 13.6%) also had to seek help from CCW in resolving their dispute.
Water Plus and Clear Business Water were two of the worst performers for the second successive year, with Castle Water and SES Business Water joining them in the bottom four.
Two of these four retailers reported a fall in complaints from their customers but their performance remains comparatively poor.
CCW has praised the performance of retailers including Water2Business, Business Stream and Pennon who all reported a reduction in complaints to remain among the best performers.
Across the border in Wales, where competition was not extended, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water also cut complaints to remain below the industry average.
Retailers admitted to being responsible for almost eight out of ten complaints they received with the remainder relating to problems caused either partly or wholly by the wholesaler.
These are the regional water companies who continue to treat and pump tap water and wastewater to and from premises.
Around three-quarters of complaints made to water retailers stem from issues with bills including disputes over how much water has been used, according to CCW’s own data.
The report also cites billing problems as one of the main obstacles to small businesses being able to switch supplier with some feeling ‘trapped’.
CCW states it has been working closely with retailers to identify and stamp out the root causes of billing problems as well as suggesting ways they can improve their complaint handling.
It will continue to highlight the best and worst performing water retailers every quarter to ‘keep the pressure on those that need to improve their service to business customers.’
The consumer group has also pledged to seek improvements to market codes and demand tough regulatory action where there is evidence retailers or wholesalers are not meeting their obligations to customers.