Complaints about water companies to the official customer watchdog are at their highest level since 1994.
High charges and problems with bills are the greatest source of gripes across all firms.
Customers in England and Wales lodged 13,603 complaints with the Consumer Council for Water in the 12 months to 31 March – up 10 per cent on the previous year.
That figure is the highest since 1994 – five years after water firms were privatised.
In addition, householders and businesses made 44,503 inquiries to CCWater – up 20 per cent year-on-year.
A surge in complaints to four water companies – mainly about billing glitches – was behind the overall annual complaints increase.
These companies are: Severn Trent Water, South East Water, Southern Water and United Utilities.
Complaints about other water and sewerage firms in England and Wales remained stable or fell slightly.
Forty-nine per cent of all complaints made to CCWater were about either billing or charges.
Complaints about Severn Trent rose to 2,652 in the year to 31 March – an annual rise of 36 per cent.
This compared to United Utilities which rose 19 per cent to 2,325; Southern Water saw complaints increase by 52 per cent to 777; and South East Water rose 74 per cent to 441.
CCWater chair Dame Yve Buckland said it was ‘disappointing’ that billing systems were causing so many problems. Some customers had even been unable to reach their supplier’s staff by phone to complain.
‘We have a right as consumers to expect high quality customer service – even though water companies are monopolies and therefore most consumers have absolutely no choice over their supplier,’ she said.
‘Levers and incentives’
Dame Yve called for the regulatory system to contain more ‘levers and incentives’ to make water companies more innovative.
Complaints to South West Water fell by 15 per cent to 789. But that figure was still the highest as a proportion of customer base than for any other water company in England and Wales.
Thames Water saw a 9 per cent drop in complaints to 2,562 while complaints about Bristol Water dropped 35 per cent to 115.
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