England’s second largest water retailer, Castle Water has been warned to address “unacceptable levels” of customer complaints by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).
The water watchdog said it has been “increasing the pressure” on the retailer after several months of high complaint levels from businesses and other non-household customers.
Castle Water accounted for around 44 per cent of the 1,630 complaints CCWater received about retailers operating in the non-household market in England between 1 September 2017 and the end of February 2018.
Complaints about Castle Water were more than double the industry average, when considering the total number of supply points, the watchdog revealed.
CCWater said it was encouraged to see “signs of improvement” in complaint numbers and call handling in February but stressed it wants to see this trend continue over the long-term.
Tony Redmond, CCWater’s London and South East chair, said: “Many of the businesses that have contacted us have been angry and frustrated at Castle Water’s handling of their accounts and complaints.
“We’ve made very clear to the company it needs to do better and we will continue to shine a light on its performance and any other retailers where we have serious concerns.”
Responding to CCWater’s criticism, Iain McPherson, customer services director at Castle Water, said: “We are not complacent, and are continuously improving our services for all customers. The next few weeks and months will see further significant improvements, resulting from the investment we have made over the past year.”
Castle Water said it has “resolved thousands of serious historical errors in billing data” and is currently “resolving several thousand more issues”.
John Reynolds, chief executive of Castle Water, added: “In reality, the separation of retail from wholesale has helped bring new transparency to water charging and improved the quality of billing accuracy for several thousand customers. CCWater has simply not got to grips with the detail of the new market. Its ostrich impression doesn’t help customers and will distort the market.”
The company said it is “committed to improving customer service further” and highlighted it has commissioned a new customer service centre, which will be operational in May.
Castle Water will be investing £500,000 in the premises in Perthshire, Scotland and will create around 60 new jobs.
It is also in the process of redesigning invoices based on customer feedback from the past year and is piloting an online account management system, which it plans to roll out to all its customers.
Castle Water purchased the non-household retail businesses of Thames Water and Portsmouth Water prior to the market opening last April, taking over the provision of services including billing and meter reading to thousands of businesses and other non-household customers.
CCWater said it will highlight “the best and worst performing retailers” when it publishes its first annual market complaints report this summer. The report will feature all customer complaints made directly to retailers, as well as those made to the watchdog.