Water firms failing to address household concerns over fair bills – survey

There is a gulf between high customer satisfaction with water and sewerage services and far lower satisfaction with the fairness of charges, Credit: John Stillwell/PA

Water companies are failing to convince enough households that their bills are fair and they provide value for money, according to a consumer group.

There remains a gulf between high customer satisfaction with water and sewerage services and far lower satisfaction with the fairness of charges, an annual survey by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) suggests.

Around six in 10 households across England and Wales think their water bills are fair despite 90% reporting overall satisfaction with their service, a drop from 92% last year.

Bills have remained roughly in line with inflation for the past eight years but satisfaction with value for money has also flatlined during this period at around 72% for water services.

Some one in eight households worry about being able to afford their water bill, while the proportion who are confident they will not face water restrictions in the future has dropped from 77% last year to 73%.

CCWater warned that prolonged heatwaves, like the one experienced in the UK last summer, and growing awareness of climate change could erode confidence further unless companies provided assurances they were taking the right action.

CCWater said the industry had a “golden opportunity” to boost perceptions of fairness in the coming months as companies and regulator Ofwat worked towards a settlement that would determine what customers paid over the next five years and the service and investment they could expect in return.

Dr Mike Keil, CCWater head of policy and research, said: “Customers’ perceptions over the fairness of their bills have languished behind satisfaction with service for almost a decade and companies cannot afford to ignore people’s concerns any longer.

“Fairness reflects people’s wider views and confidence in the industry and companies that are complacent run the risk of increasing discontent among their customers.”

CCWater surveyed more than 5,100 customers across England and Wales who were solely or jointly responsible for paying their household’s water and sewerage bill.

Responding to the survey, Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “As always, the report provides valuable feedback on what customers think about their water and sewerage services.

“It looks like there’s still more work to be done on persuading customers about the fairness of bills, but average bills are roughly the same as they were 20 years ago in real terms and, on current plans, by 2025 there will have been a decade in real terms reductions.

“The report confirms that customers’ trust has increased significantly since 2011, and satisfaction with both water and sewerage services remains very high.

“It’s also reassuring to see the report explain that customers are more satisfied with their water provider than any other similar utility, and that perhaps explains why only 3% of customers who contacted water companies did so to make a complaint.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The Government and regulators have repeatedly made it clear that the industry must put customers at the heart of business and deliver better outcomes for the environment.

“We welcome this report from CCWater which sets out where the industry needs to improve to deliver better customer satisfaction, fairness and value for money both now and in the long-term.”