Water charge grievancesWater bill hikes prompt complaints

29 September 2005

Complaints about the cost of water services in England and Wales have soared by more than 150 per cent in the past 18 months, according to an industry watchdog.

But WaterVoice says that overall, complaints have fallen by nine per cent.

The rise in complaints about charges reflects a hike in the average household bill. Last year it rose by 29 GBP - from 249 GBP to 278 GBP.

And there are huge variations - you could end up paying double the amount other customers pay, depending on where you live. The most expensive drinking water is supplied by Tendring Hundred Water, which covers Essex. Its supply bill is 163 GBP, while Portsmouth Water customers pay just 79 GBP - less than half.

The average sewerage bill ranges from South West Water's 254 GBP to a low of 102 GBP for Thames Water.

New water watchdog

The complaints figures are revealed in WaterVoice's annual report, which marks its swansong - in October this year it's being replaced by a new Consumer Council for Water.

The new council will be completely independent of both the water industry and industry regulator Ofwat, whereas WaterVoice was funded and supported by Ofwat.

WaterVoice says that half of the 22 water companies saw an increase in complaints, and top of the list was South West Water. The main issues were difficulty contacting the company, and bill queries.

Overall, as well as the complaints about charging, customer gripes centred on metered billing, sewerage services, disputed liability for unmetered bills and complaints about new water supply connections.

Meanwhile, a separate report by industry regulator Ofwat says water companies are generally maintaining good levels of service to customers.

A spokesman for the industry body Water UK said:'Although the rise of 29 GBP seems steep, this is the first year of a five-year billing and investment program agreed with Ofwat. The companies need the money upfront for 17 billion GBP worth of investment in drinking water, water mains, sewer flooding and other environmental improvements.

'Rises in subsequent years will be much lower; and some customers won't see a rise at all. Across England and Wales, prices this year are still less than they were five years ago in real terms.'