Water companies’ response to Beast from the East ‘was poor’

Water companies’ response to the Beast from the East was poor and resulted in mixed levels of customer service, the industry regulator has said as it demanded a step up in performance.

In its latest service delivery report, Ofwat noted that between 2017-18 several firms were unable to meet their supply interruptions commitments during the Arctic chill that swept the country and brought low temperatures and high winds in March last year.

Ofwat said in 2017-18 there was a 1% reduction in the number of performance commitments achieved across the sector compared with 2016-17.

“The reduction in performance reflects the issues that some companies experienced managing the effects of the severe, but not unprecedented, freeze-thaw event in late February and early March”, adding that companies “have more to do to ensure they meet their performance commitments”.

The Beast from the East resulted in more burst pipes, with knock-on impacts on leakage and supply interruptions for all companies, as over 200,000 customers experienced supply interruptions of more than four hours.

However, the watchdog said customer satisfaction for Britain’s water companies has risen – but is still low compared with other sectors.

Anglian Water was the top performer on customer satisfaction according to Ofwat’s report, followed by Portsmouth Water.

Thames Water and SES Water fell to the bottom following improvements from both Southern Water and South West Water.

More water companies have improved their performance on pollution incidents and internal sewer flooding, but Ofwat said that nearly half have failed to meet targets on water supply interruptions and leaks.

It said water firms have looked further ahead in assessing their financial viability, but that they still need to provide greater clarity over payouts to shareholders.

In July, Ofwat called on water companies to explain how performance-based pay for their executives will be tied to delivery for customers and how their dividend payout policies take their service into account.

Ofwat said it will take into account firms’s service, delivery and financial performance when making decisions later in this year about the bills customers will have to pay between 2020 and 2025.

David Black, Ofwat’s senior director, said: “Delivering a high quality service and good corporate behaviour are pivotal to the ongoing legitimacy of the water sector in the eyes of customers, and society more broadly.

“We are pleased to see that in many areas such as delivering customer satisfaction, assessing financial resilience and reducing pollution and sewer flooding, the dial is moving in the right direction.

“This now needs to be replicated across the board, so that all customers benefit from the highest levels of service.”