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Customers' trust in water companies falls down the drain

Customers' trust in water companies falls down the drain
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

The majority of households are not satisfied with their water company's environmental approach amid April price hikes, research finds.

Satisfaction with the quality of water services has slipped to 58% among users, a drop from 65% in 2021.

Customers were particularly unimpressed with what their water provider is doing for the environment, as just 23% trusted the firms to do so.

Moreover, only a fifth (21%) believe their water provider acts in the best interest of the environment, according to Ofwat’s research.

Lynn Parker, senior director for casework, enforcement, and customers at Ofwat, said: “This study underscores a concerning trend of declining satisfaction and eroding trust among customers of water companies, especially when it comes to their environmental performance.

“This breakdown in public confidence is of the companies’ own making, reflecting their own shortfalls in performance.”

Parker added: “However, we are now beginning to see the water industry respond in a meaningful way to the challenges we and the Government have set. The water companies have produced plans that will provide an additional £100bn of expenditure to reduce pollution, improve biodiversity, and deliver better customer service.

“We are currently examining these plans to make sure they maximise the environmental benefits and deliver value for money for customers.”

New powers to clamp down on poor water service

The regulator gained new powers in February that allow it to hit water companies with fines worth up to 10% of their turnover.

This is intended to punish providers that provide poor customer service or do not comply with new licence conditions when it comes to wastage, for example. As part of the crackdown, water bosses were banned from receiving bonuses if a company had committed serious criminal breaches.

It followed a customer survey into the sector, where 50% of billpayers said they struggled regularly with household bills. That figure rose to over two-thirds (65%) for people with a health condition, long-term illness or disability.

Meanwhile, water bills shot up by 6% at the beginning of April. This means the average household bill will pay £473 for the service during the 2024/25 tax year.

Following the hikes in price and dissatisfaction, Jenny Suggate, director of policy, research and campaigns at the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), has called for more support to struggling families to come from water firms.”

‘Water industry perception is profit over service’

Suggate said: “Customers’ diminishing trust in water companies is not going to be reversed until people begin to see and feel a marked improvement in both the service they receive and the state of the environment.

“There is a growing perception that the water industry cares more about profit than the service it provides. One way more companies could help change that view is by using some of their own money to bolster support for those struggling with their water bills.”

Suggate added: “The rise in people contacting their water company with concerns over their bill underlines why the industry must not turn its back on the commitment it made five years ago to end water poverty by 2030.”