Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 00:01 UK

Record complaints to water firms

Severn Trent was one of 10 firms that saw a drop in complaints

Customers' complaints about UK water companies rose to a record level in the past 12 months, a report from the water watchdog has found.

The Consumer Council for Water said almost 273,000 complaints were made during the financial year to April 2008 - 11% higher than the previous year.

Most of these were about Southern Water - where complaints rose 155% - Anglian Water and South East Water.

More than half of the complaints made were about billing and charges.

'Teething problems'

Southern Water said that during the first half of 2007-2008, it received a higher than normal number of complaints following the introduction of a new 20 million billing system.

It also said that now "the initial teething problems" had been overcome, Southern Water was delivering improvements, introducing new services and increasing efficiency.

South East Water acknowledged that from 1 April 2007 to 31 March 2008, there "remained a high number of complaints" following the implementation of a major new billing system some 12 months before.

The firm, which said it regularly meets with the customer watchdog, has assured it that there are now no major problems with the company's billing system.

Anglian Water said the increase in customer complaints last year was predominantly due to the new billing system it introduced.

And South West Water said it regretted any complaints and was "working with our new partner, Accenture to provide first class customer billing and account services".

Prior to 2005-06, year-on-year written complaints were at a relatively steady level.

But since then there has been a steep rise across the industry because of problems with certain companies causing an overall rise in customer complaints, the Consumer Council for Water said.

'Systems gone wrong'

Anglian Water received 56% more complaints than the year before.

Southern Water: up 155%
Anglian Water: up 56%
South East Water: up 55%
Three Valleys: up 39%
Dee Valley: up 35%
Source: Consumer Council for Water

The Consumer Council for Water said Southern Water also had an "unacceptable" number of sewerage service complaints which were not immediately resolved.

"Without the high increases in complaints to Southern Water, Anglian Water and South East Water, figures for the industry overall would have dropped," said Dame Yve Buckland, chairperson of the Consumer Council for Water.

"It is even more disappointing that for the third year in a row, the rise in complaints has been heavily influenced by individual water companies introducing new billing systems that have gone wrong," she added.

The association said Southern Water, South East Water and South West Water had the highest number of complaints in proportion to the number of customers that each company serves.

Customer complaints fell for 10 companies, with Severn Trent seeing the biggest reduction.

The firm, which was recently fined a record 35.8m by the regulator Ofwat for providing false information and poor customer service, saw complaints drop by a third after overcoming problems from the previous year.

Water company complaints

Water & sewerage company 2006-07 2007-08 % Change
Southern Water Services Ltd 18979 48328 154.64
Anglian Water Services Ltd 16645 25891 55.55
United Utilities Water 24193 31920 31.94
South West Water Services Ltd 7810 9446 20.95
Wessex Water Services Ltd 6547 7773 18.73
Yorkshire Water Services Ltd 5193 5255 1.19
Dwr Cymru Welsh Water 10586 10628 0.4
Northumbrian Water 7449 7333 -1.56
Thames Water Utilities Ltd 56914 52174 -8.33
Severn Trent Water Ltd. 68874 45710 -33.63
Water only company 2006-07 2007-08 % Change
South East Water Ltd 6721 10400 54.74
Three Valleys Water Services plc 3419 4763 39.31
Dee Valley Water plc 258 348 34.88
Bristol Water plc 2685 3058 13.89
Portsmouth Water plc 156 175 12.18
Mid Kent Water plc 941 1040 10.52
South Staffordshire Water plc 2825 2866 1.45
Essex & Suffolk Water 4048 3979 -1.7
Cambridge Water Company 465 453 -2.58
Sutton & East Surrey Water plc 379 357 -5.8
Tendring Hundred Water 158 140 -11.39
Folkestone and Dover Water 163 142 -12.88
Bournemouth & West Hants 921 759 -17.59
Hartlepool 88 59 -32.95
Total complaints 246417 272997 10.8

Ofwat confirms Severn Trent fine
02 Jul 08 |  Business
Severn Trent faces a 35.8m fine
08 Apr 08 |  Business

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