Steep rise in complaints about water companies

Complaints about water companies were up by 10% last year as UK customers chose to express their dissatisfaction on 13,603 occasions over the 2006-7 period, the industry watchdog has said.

Bills and charges caused the biggest number of complaints to the Consumer Council for Water (CC Water), equivalent to 49% of all complaints over that period.

Problems with billing systems at four major companies - Severn Trent Water, United Utilities, South East Water and Southern Water - strongly contributed to the sharp rise in complaints.

Severn Trent said the company was working to overcome customer dissatisfaction.

"We've already put steps in place that are having an impact in these areas, such as reviewing the layout of our bills, but we recognise that it will not offer overnight solutions," said Martin Kane, Severn Trent's director of customer relations.

"The recovery is going to take time but we are sure that it is the best way forward for long-term, solid improvements to our customer service so that we can not just meet our customer's expectations, but beat them."

As many as 2,652 complaints were made about Severn Trent Water, a 36% rise on the previous year. United Utilies followed with 1,959 complaints, a 19% increase. Souther Water saw a 52% increase to 510 complaints, and South East Water - a 74% rise in complaints to 253.

Dame Yve Buckland, chair of the Consumer Council for Water, said: "We have a right as consumers to expect high quality customer service - even though water companies are monopolies, and therefore most consumers have absolutely no choice over their supplier.

"Water companies cannot be complacent and should strive not only to satisfy customers' expectations, but exceed them.

"It is particularly disappointing to find some companies, for the second consecutive year, tripping up when they have introduced basic billing systems - causing customers great concern. In some cases these problems are compounded when customers cannot even reach their company's staff on the phone to complain."

Goska Romanowicz



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