Our complaints and disputes process

Initial sift

Upon receipt of your complaint or correspondence, you will receive an acknowledgement that you have contacted us.

Our Case Management Office will review your email or correspondence to consider if we are best placed to deal with your complaint, or if your complaint should rather be dealt with by CCWater, WATRS or the water company itself. In making this decision, we are guided by whether we have jurisdiction and what the best and quickest resolution will be for you. This is known as the initial sift.

Where we think your complaint is one which can be dealt with more appropriately by CCWater, we will forward the complaint to them and let you know that we have done this, and will provide you with the relevant contact details to allow you to follow up your complaint with them.

Where we think your water company is best placed to deal with your complaint, we will inform you of this and with your permission, we may pass on the information to them, for expediency. Our aim is to do this within 10 working days, although we try to do this as soon as possible following receipt of your complaint. There are many benefits to doing this, the main one being that it may provide a quick resolution and desirable outcome for you. If you remain unhappy with the outcome, we will progress your complaint formally by starting a preliminary assessment, as we explain, below.

We may not always be able to determine whether we have a role at the initial stage. This may be because the complaint is complex, contains lots of information which we are not able to quickly process or we may need more information to be able to understand whether we have a role. Where this is the case, we will also proceed to a preliminary assessment.

Preliminary assessment

Our preliminary assessment is the phase (usually consisting of 20 working days) where Ofwat considers in more detail: (a) whether it has the necessary legal powers to determine the dispute; and (b) whether it is appropriate for Ofwat to handle the dispute.

Once we have concluded our preliminary assessment, we will write to the parties to inform them whether we will be taking the dispute forward for determination, or not. In cases where we are not able to progress a complaint, we will tell the parties how we have arrived at that decision, and where possible, provide alternative avenues for them to follow to resolve their complaint.

Where we have a role in a dispute we will explain to the parties what our role is and what the next steps are that will allow us to reach a decision. This is likely to include setting out the exact scope of the dispute based on the information we have at that time, and the timeframe within which we expect to arrive at a decision. This will depend on factors such as the complexity of the case, whether we have all of the information which we require to determine the case, and whether any of the parties request an extension during the life of the dispute.

We will write to the parties to inform them of the person who will be responsible for managing the determination process (the case officer). We will also provide parties with a case reference number, so that they can quote this when they contact us. In cases where case officers change due to internal reasons, we will inform the parties, and explain to them if and how this is likely to affect the process. Once we have decided whether we will be opening a case, we will also publish a summary of the dispute we have been asked to determine on our website – this will not include customers’ details.

The case officer is responsible for corresponding with the parties to make sure they are aware of the information expected at each stage of the determination process, and will inform them of the timelines for completing the determination.

Information requests (and submission of information)

The quality of information submitted by the parties to a dispute is important to help Ofwat determine disputes.

We may make requests for information during our preliminary assessment phase, and throughout the life of the investigation.

We may request information early on in the case if we consider we do not have enough information to establish whether or not we have jurisdiction to decide the case.

Further requests for information are to ensure that we have all the necessary evidence for making a decision. This might be clarifying information we already hold, or it might be pursuing new areas which we think are relevant to the dispute.

Where we send out information requests to companies, we may do so under Condition M[1] of companies’ conditions of appointment or we may use specific statutory provisions which give us the power to request information, for example, section 203 WIA91 allows us to request information if we are considering taking enforcement action against a company.

We give all parties a reasonable timeframe to respond to a request for information. The timeframe may vary depending on the type of complaint, and its complexity and whether we have to seek further clarification on information provided.

Sources of information

In addition to the information requests which we send out to parties, we rely on various other sources of information to arrive at our decisions, such as some of our closed cases, which may be very similar to the contested case and so contain key messages for companies or customers. In the table below, we set out other sources of information we use to inform the different disputes which we have a role in:

Case TypesSources of Information
s45Hyder Report[2]

Review of Section 45 Costs[3]

s47n/a
s49n/a
s64n/a
s94RD03/06: Sewer Flooding and Ofwat’s Approach to Enforcement
s144An/a
s38 & s95Guaranteed Standard Schemes

Guidance to companies on weather related exemptions

Companies’ legal obligations concerning GSS

s181n/a
s42Charging for new connections
s51C
s99
s101n/a
s122n/a
s126n/a
s105Private Sewer Transfer Regulations: Ofwat’s guidance on appeals concerning the transfer of private sewers, lateral drains and pumping stations in England and Wales.
s106n/a
s107n/a
Request for an arbitratorn/a
Bulk Pricing DisputesBulk Pricing Policy – A Statement of our policy principles

Our framework for resolving pricing disputes involving bulk supplies

Competition Act 98http://www.ofwat.gov.uk/publications/competition-law-in-the-water-and-sewerage-industry/

Confidentiality of information

If any party wishes to provide confidential information to us at any stage of the process, they should notify the case officer and explain why the information is confidential. Unjustified requests for confidentiality will be refused.

If any party considers that specific information provided in their representations is commercially sensitive or confidential, they should make us aware of this. In doing so, they should clearly set out the reasons why, in their view, the information should not be disclosed, and if possible provide, alongside their response, a non-confidential version of the document(s) that could be shared with the other party. If we consider that disclosure of the information to another party will facilitate the carrying out of our functions, and we do not consider that the reasons provided amount to sufficient justification to withhold disclosure, we will give the party submitting the information notice that we intend to disclose the information in question. We will not accept blanket requests for confidentiality or requests not supported by specific and clear reasons.

In general, we aim for transparency in a dispute process and, unless information is confidential, we will copy all parties into our requests for information and we will ask each party to a dispute to send copies of all responses (with accompanying documentation) to the other parties to the dispute.

Instances where we may put cases on hold or ‘stop the clock’

We aim to progress our cases and decisions within a reasonable timeframe. However, there may be delays caused by factors which are outside of our control, such as delays in submission of information by one of the parties or the need to go back and clarify information which one of the parties has submitted. Where we have made a request for information, and the deadline for submissions has not been met, we may ‘stop the clock’ and put the case on hold. By doing this, we are able to free up resource so our case officer can progress other priorities. When this happens, we will inform you in writing or via email and we will also tell you what you will need to do for us to start the clock again. Therefore, we encourage all parties to submit their information in a timely manner.

It could also be that our internal resource (which is fixed) has been fully used up due to an increase in the volume of complaints we have to deal with, such that we may not be able to progress a case in the timeframe that we said we will. In all of these instances, we will communicate with you and with all parties to keep everyone informed of any delays and the reason behind the delays.

Draft decision

Our draft decision is the decision we are minded to make in light of the evidence we have gathered from all parties and the legal framework for the dispute.

In reaching our decision, we will consider carefully information gathered, our statutory powers and any relevant conditions in the water company’s licence which are relevant to the determination of the dispute.

Our draft decisions are not generally published on our website. However, if the case is a strategic case we may publish it on our website in order to provide other stakeholders the opportunity to comment. If we choose to do this we will make the parties aware in advance.

Representations

The parties to a dispute will have an opportunity to comment on our draft decision.

We typically allow parties three to four weeks to respond to a draft decision. Parties can request an extension to the timelines outlining their reasons for their extension request. We will then review the parties’ reasons, decide whether it is reasonable to grant the extension and if so, issue a revised deadline for the receipt of submissions.

We will consider all parties’ representations before making our final decision.

Final decision

Once we have considered any representations made, we will make a final decision.

The final decision in our strategic cases is made by a committee of the Ofwat Board which has delegated power to make final decisions in these cases.

Before publishing a final decision we will send a copy to the parties to ask if there is anything in it that they consider to be commercially sensitive or confidential before publication. If we agree that specified material is commercially sensitive or confidential we will redact those portions of the final decision before publishing it on our website. We will separately publish the reasons for our decision as required by section 195A WIA91.

Ofwat will not publish parties’ personal details, but we will publish the names and details of corporate entities, including water companies, who are involved in the dispute.

Appeals and judicial reviews

Once a final decision has been made, the parties may not appeal that decision. They can, however challenge the way in which we reached that decision by way of a judicial review in the High Court. A judicial review must be brought as soon as reasonably practicable (and in any case no later than three months after the decision was made).

Further information can be found at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/you-and-the-judiciary/judicial-review/