Customers have their say on water companies' business plans

More than half of water company customers think the business plans submitted to the water industry regulator Ofwat earlier this year, and which incorporate price hikes, do not offer value for money.

Most customers of the 23 water companies in England and Wales have said that they would rather remain under the current service from their provider - only customers from three water companies said they felt the proposals provide better value for money than their current plan.

The findings, the results of joint research into water and sewerage customers' views on the services they could receive in 2005-2010, will come as a blow to businesses which had hoped to see the amount they can charge customers rise by 10% above the rate of inflation starting from 2005 (see related story).

However, the results offer up a slightly contradictory response with customers seemingly willing to pay for the proposed plans - 41-46% of the 6,000 respondents said they were 'probably willing' to pay for new proposals, and 14% of customers saying they were 'definitely willing' to pay more. Up to 36% said they were probably or definitely not willing to pay for the new services, with most stating that the cost was too much for the improvements provided.

A national average of 79% of customers said they were satisfied that the current water and sewerage service is currently high.

A spokesperson for Water UK, the water and sewerage industry representative, told edie that the organisation generally welcomed the reactions. He admitted that the price plans had received a mixed response nationally, but said that general feedback was more positive than negative with an appreciation amongst customers for the investment work which had so far been undertaken by customers.

The consumers interest representative WaterVoice said it was unsurprised by the results of the survey. "We hope this will have a major influence in Ofwat's decision later next year, however we will be dealing with each company on its own merits. WaterVoice will be using these reactions to discuss and inform decisions at company level, and on the individual basis of what that company will supply based on their customers wants and needs," a spokesperson for the organisation told edie.

The survey was commissioned jointly by Defra, the Welsh Assembly, Ofwat, WaterVoice, Water UK, the Environment Agency, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, English Nature and the Wildlife and Countryside Link.

It also revealed that when shown details of the proposed plans, only four in ten of all customers wanted to see the implementation of all the proposals in the draft submissions, with the same amount wanting to see some of them implemented and two in ten not wishing to see any of the proposals transformed to reality.

Ensuring the safety of tap water and managing its appearance, taste and smell, as well as ensuring a reliable and continuous supply were the areas in the plans which were most supported by the customers nationally.



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