Around 60 per cent of the complaints about Water Plus from non-household water customers relate to a wholesaler, chief executive Andy Hughes has insisted.

Hughes told delegates at Utility Week’s Water Customer conference in Birmingham wholesalers have a “huge role to play” in the improvement of the water retail market, which opened to competition in April 2017.

In December, the Consumer Council for Water released figures which showed complaints had hit a “record high”.

One of the biggest reasons for the increase was a 64 per cent rise in complaints about one of the market’s largest retailers – Water Plus – compared with the previous quarter.

Hughes said a large number of the complaints customers have made about Water Plus have been linked to a wholesaler issue. “That’s not meaning that the wholesaler is at fault,” he said. “It means a wholesaler perhaps needs to do something in order to help the retailer solve the customer’s issue.”

The company, which currently serves 360,000 customers – about a third of the market – and turns over revenues of around £1 billion per year has “had its challenges”, said Hughes. However, it is now on an “upward trajectory”.

“Over the last three months of 2018, we have reduced our complaints by 40 per cent,” he said, adding that this was largely down to a large investment to take on more people, working more closely with wholesalers, listening to customers and making bills clearer.

“We invested north of £3 million and we put in more than 100 additional customer service advisers into the organisation. What that allowed is for people to work through the level of phone calls we were experiencing but also the correspondence that was coming into Water Plus was generating a backlog. Obviously where that manifested itself was in reducing customer experience and increasing our complaints.”

“There is still more to do,” he added. “The one thing I will say about complaints is that we are a long way through tackling the issue at Water Plus.”

In an earlier session at the conference, Southern Water customer services director Simon Oates acknowledged that wholesalers need to up their game when it comes to engaging with retailers, but retailers need to “come to the party as well”, he said.

Hughes took over as chief executive of Water Plus in June last year, when he replaced Sue Amies-King.

He joined from Severn Trent where he was head of credit management and payment services.

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