Southern Water apologises for ‘unacceptable’ customer service

Southern Water has apologised for “letting its customers down” and promised to improve its service after topping the annual league table for complaints against water companies, published by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).

Southern Water, which posted a 77% year-on-year increase in written complaints in 2012-13, has appointed a new customer senior management team in a bid to improve its performance.

Darren Bentham, the new chief customer officer, said: “I’d like to apologise for letting our customers down. Simply put, our service has not been good enough and these figures are unacceptable, but we’re doing something about it. “

CC Water called for harsher penalties against companies that trigger numerous customer complaints, saying it was concerned that the poorest performing companies were lagging behind.

Complaints have fallen for the fifth year in a row, but the drop of 7.4 per cent is less than the previous year’s 12 per cent drop. The fall in telephone complaints is also slowing down.

Tony Smith, chief executive of CCWater, said: “We continue to tell the regulator Ofwat that there needs to be stronger penalties for water companies who are failing to satisfy the expectations of their customers.”

Despite a reduction of nearly 33 per cent, South East Water’s number of complaints remains twice the industry average, while Thames Water remained the only company to fall short of CCWater’s target to resolve 90 per cent of complaints first time.

United Utilities was commended for achieving the highest reduction in complaints of almost 40 per cent.

An Ofwat spokesperson said: “It’s quite right that there is a penalty if a company is underperforming on customer service. That’s why we have proposed penalties for those companies who are lagging behind on the SIM, with some reward for those who are leading the pack.”

In Ofwat’s 2009 price review methodology, it said it would consider a penalty of up to -1.0 per cent of turnover, and a reward of up to +0.5 per cent of turnover, in relation to performance on the SIM.