Water companies pulled up over complaint calls
The number of phone complaints to UK water companies is on the up, a report has said.
Figures from the Consumer Council for Water show the number of calls customers made to resolve water issues went up by more than 40,000 to more than two million in the last year.
However, written complaint numbers fell by 11% to less than 100,000.
The complaints body said the water industry needs to work harder to improve.
When it came to phone calls customers had to make to their water provider, the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) said that Southern Water was the worst performer, followed by Affinity Water, Yorkshire Water, Thames Water and SES Water.
For written complaints, Southern Water was also the worst performer, despite seeing the largest reduction in customers writing to it to complain.
Also in the top five were Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, Cambridge Water, South West Water and Thames Water.
"I am pleased we are the most improved company across the industry in terms of achieving the largest reduction in written complaints," said Southern Water's chief customer officer Simon Oates.
"Despite this 45% reduction we are still at the foot of the industry league tables, so we'll continue to work closely with our colleagues at CCW to drive forward further improvements and move up the rankings."
Southern Water says it has launched a new online portal to make it easier for customers to manage their accounts, as well as expanding teams at contact call centres, among other measures.
CCWater said it will be placing Thames Water and SES Water under "closer scrutiny" after both companies saw an increase in written complaints and unwanted contacts from their customers.
The complaints body also wants to see further improvements from Southern Water, Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water and Affinity Water.
In 2016/17, CCWater helped customers with more than 8,700 complaints about their water company, and secured over £1.3m in financial redress, including £800,000 in rebates for customers and around £500,000 of compensation for customers where the service received from their companies was not acceptable.
Thames Water said that it is resolving customer complaints "quicker than ever before", while Affinity Water said that its complaints had reduced by 29% in the last year.
Yorkshire Water pointed out that not all customer calls are complaints, and that it recently introduced a call-back service where customers can book 10-minute-long appointment slots instead of waiting on hold, or contact the company over Facebook or Twitter.
Welsh Water, meanwhile, said that the figures quoted in the report did not reflect its efforts to improve its service for customers.
"[The continued progress] has resulted in written complaints reducing by 50% in the past 12 months and this means that the total number of complaints, whether made in writing or by telephone, is now down to the lowest levels we have seen for many years," a spokesperson said.
CCWater said that while written complaints had gone down, the number of customer calls was too many, and more work needed to be done by the water industry.
"The service customers receive from their water company has generally improved over the past decade, but that progress appears to have stalled," said Tony Smith, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water.
"Water companies received more than two million contacts from customers last year to resolve issues which they should get right first time. We'll be challenging all of the industry to deliver an even better service, but particularly the poorest performers."