A Sussex water company has seen the largest increase in complaints in the past year across England and Wales, an industry watchdog has found.
Southern Water, which is based in Durrington and provides wastewater treatment services across Sussex, was the worst overall performer for the fourth straight year, after more than a ten per cent rise in written customer complaints during 2015/16.
According to the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), Southern had more than 77 complaints per 10,000 connections, twice the industry average, but the company explained that this was largely down to disputes over billing, with the year’s operational performance its ‘best ever’, with a drop in sewer flooding and pollution incidents.
Meanwhile South East Water, which supplies water to most of Mid Sussex, the Lewes and Wealden districts, Eastbourne, and Bexhill reported the largest reduction in complaints across England and Wales, down 38.2 per cent from 2014/15.
Portsmouth Water, which covers the Chichester and Bognor Regis areas, had the lowest number of written complaints per 10,000 customers.
Thames Water, which covers Crawley, saw a 27.8 per cent reduction in complaints compared to last year.
Southern Water’s Simon Oates said: “We accept there is still much more for us to do to come in line with the rest of the industry and we are continuing to work with CCW to drive forward further improvements.
“We want to reassure our customers we remain fully committed to continuing the improvements we have already made, and bringing our performance up to the standard they quite rightly expect from us.
“Our performance since November 2015 – most of which unfortunately falls outside the time period covered by today’s report – has been much improved.
“We have seen the number of complaints we receive from customers fall steadily and, so far this year, we have received approximately half the number of complaints we did in the first five months of 2015.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to report back to CCW next month, and are confident the figures we submit will show a marked reduction in the number of complaints we have received.”
According to CCW report, the largest proportion of complaints were made about high bills and large changes to bills.
Between 2010 and 2015, Southern Water carried out a universal metering programme, which meant that around 400,000 customers changed from a rateable value bill to a bill based on the amount of water that is used.
While more than 60 per cent of customers saw their bills reduce, the metering programme means that customer bills are now subject to much greater variation.
Southern Water is putting in place a dedicated call centre focusing on identifying customers who have seen a significant rise and contacting them before bills are sent out.
Tony Smith, chief Executive at the CCW, said: “What is particularly alarming is the very substantial increase in complaints some companies have reported.
“We can’t allow the good progress that has been made by the industry in recent years to be reversed. That’s why we have asked four of the poorest performing companies to report to us by the end of October on what action they have taken, or are planning to take, to reduce complaints.”
Southern provides both water and wastewater treatment services to the Horsham district, Adur, Worthing, Littlehampton, Hastings, Brighton and Hove, Lewes, and parts of Rother and Chichester districts.
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