Written complaints made by business customers to water retailers have fallen to their lowest level since 2016/17 but performance remains mixed among the larger suppliers.
The Consumer Council for Water’s (CCW) annual Business Customer Complaints Report shows that written complaints across England and Wales fell by 16 per cent to 12,312 in 2022-23 – down from 14,694 in the previous year. However fewer than half of water retailers saw a reduction in complaints from their customers.
Encouragingly, complaint levels are approaching those seen prior to April 2017, when all business customers in England were given the freedom to switch provider of their water retail services. But it has taken too long to get to this stage, and progress is diluted by widely differing performance between larger retailers.
The complaint levels of the three worst performing water retailers – Water Plus, SES Business Water and Castle Water – are particularly concerning and CCW is calling upon these retailers to address the underlying causes. Water companies – which still provide the wholesale water and sewerage services to business customers – also have a role to play, with 31 per cent of complaints made to retailers either wholly or partly caused by wholesalers.
Although the majority of larger retailers saw fewer complaints about them escalated to CCW, overall complaints to us fell by only 3%. This meant our target of a 10 per cent reduction in complaints to us was not met, and the number remains 2.5 times higher than it was before the water retail market opened in England. The main reasons for discontent remain largely unchanged, with billing and charging behind 71 per cent of complaints made to CCW.
Emma Clancy, CCW Chief Executive, said “Our recent review of business customers’ experiences of the water retail market called on retailers to resolve complaints quickly, effectively and transparently for business customers of all sizes. When customers feel the need to involve CCW to resolve disputes, this shows that retailers are not achieving this.”
“However, it is clear that wholesalers also need to improve their services to business customers and work better with retailers to resolve complaints. Wholesalers play a role in helping to deliver accurate customer bills, so we are asking for them to increase the use of smart meters, to assist in bringing down the number of billing and charging disputes.”
CCW will continue to work closely with retailers, wholesalers, Ofwat and partner agencies to drive improvements across the market, following the targeted approach set out in our Five Year Review of the water retail market. Our regular Business Retail Market Forum provides a good opportunity to share best practice.
In future, our revised complaint guidance will mean we can report on complaints across all channels, including telephone and social media. It will give us more information about why businesses need to contact their retailer when things go wrong.