Water and sewerage: How to complain about bills

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Water and sewerage companies provide an essential service to millions of homes and businesses every day.

This service is usually of a high standard, but sometimes companies can fail to get things right first time and this can leave customers disappointed or angry.

The latest statistics show that there were 185,140 complaints to companies in England and Wales in 2010-11.

The number has fallen for three years in a row, but remains 27% higher than the lowest level on record.

Bills

Both domestic and business customers have the right to complain about their water or sewerage service and whatever the reason for dissatisfaction, the company should try to resolve it.

Customers we talk to have a wide range of complaints including disputes over bills, payment arrangements, water pressure, notice of supply interruptions and sewer flooding.

Customers of water and sewerage companies are entitled to minimum standards of service, as laid down by the government in the guaranteed standards scheme (GSS).

Complaint checklist

  • Call your water company
  • If you are not satisfied, write to them or email them
  • The company must reply within 10 working days of receiving the written complaint
  • You can then ask for their decision to be reviewed
  • The Consumer Council for Water may take on your case

Most companies also have their own code of practice which goes beyond the requirement of GSS. Where a company fails to meet a standard then it is required to make a specified payment to the customer affected.

You can contact the Consumer Council for Water at any time about a complaint and we will guide you through the company's process. A good starting point is our customer support website, which has many frequently asked questions and information on how to find and contact your water company.

Our evidence shows that we can usually help you to reach a resolution, without having to undertake a formal investigation.

How to complain

The Consumer Council for Water represents all customers - domestic and business.

If you have a problem with your water company, you may wish to contact their customer call centre. Their contact details are on the back of your water bill and they should be able to resolve your complaint directly.

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If, after this, you are still not satisfied, you should write to the company by post or by email.

Companies are required to reply within 10 working days of receiving your written complaint and if they do not, you are entitled to an automatic credit on your account.

If you are dissatisfied with the company's first written reply you can ask them to review their decision.

Sometimes water companies do not resolve complaints.

If a customer is dissatisfied with an answer, they can ask the Consumer Council for Water for help. We are independent from both the economic regulator, Ofwat, and the water and sewerage companies, and our services are free.

We have knowledge of companies' policies and procedures and if their service has been poor, we may be able to get the company to reconsider their actions or decisions and, where appropriate, pay compensation.

The Consumer Council for Water has a duty to represent consumers' interests and customers can contact us at any time.

We will always do our best to handle your complaint professionally, reply promptly and explain matters clearly, while keeping you informed about how your complaint is progressing.

We will be honest here with you if we do not think you have grounds for a complaint. If we do, we will fight hard on your behalf.

We monitor our own standards of service and currently perform better than consumer representatives in other regulated industries.

Future issues

Customers are likely to need support on a number of issues in the water industry in the near future.

Debt levels are growing as more people struggle to afford their bills.

Metering levels are set to increase, especially in areas where water is more scarce, such as the south-east of England.

Prices will be changing from 2014 when the regulator next agrees what companies can charge.

More business customers will be able to choose their water supplier when the competition threshold in England is lowered to five megalitres from 50 megalitres.

You can submit your complaint via our website, by post, telephone or textphone. Information on how to do this can be found on our website.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Links to external sites are for information only and do not constitute endorsement. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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