On the case September 2015

Welcome to the second edition of On the Case, which looks at issues affecting your water and wastewater services, and how we protect you. In this issue, you can find out what you can do if you can’t have a water meter fitted, details of compensation for United Utilities customers in Lancashire and the service you can expect if your property is flooded with sewage. We also provide advice for home builders on the charges they may have to pay for building new properties and connecting them to water and wastewater services.

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Want a water meter but your company can’t fit one?

Most people now pay for their water using a meter rather than according to the rateable value of their property (see ‘On the Case’, issue 1). Switching to a meter means that some customers can reduce their water bills.

So why can’t all customers have one?

“Sometimes it’s not practical for the water company to fit a meter. For example, if you live in a block of flats. Or it could be too expensive – for example, if the only place to install the meter is not easy for the water company to get to”, explains Emma Hart Senior Caseworker at Ofwat.

But what can you do if your company says it can’t fit one?

“If this happens to you, your company should offer you something called an ‘assessed charge’. This is where the water companies estimate what your bill might have been if you were to have a water meter”, says Emma.

So do you need to do anything special to get the assessed charge?

“No. We expect water companies to be transparent and tell their customers about the option of having an assessed charge and what they need to do. Customers should not be expected to ask in a certain way,” answers Emma.

So what can you do if you are in this situation?

“If you want to have a water meter but can’t have one fitted, and your company hasn’t told you about assessed charges, you should contact them. If you still feel you can’t get anywhere, speak to the Consumer Council for Water. They will investigate your complaint- and let us know where there are significant issues with a company. You could also speak to us if you want to appeal your water company’s decision not to fit a meter, responds Emma.

Find out what sorts of information you need to send us with your water meter appeal.

What to do if you’re flooded by sewage

Has your property been flooded by sewage?

Flooding from sewers is one of the worst failures customers can experience with their water and wastewater supplies. If it happens to you, we expect water companies to work with you to provide practical help. They should:

  • make it easy for you to contact them
  • visit your property promptly when sewer flooding happens
  • provide you with information about how to deal with the flooding and any health risks during and after clean up
  • speak to you about investigations into the cause of the flooding – and solutions to stop it happening
  • provide you financial assistance and advice

We also expect companies to comply with their legal duties to clean and maintain their sewers to minimise the risk of sewer flooding.

If a sewer floods and damages your property, you may also be entitled to a payment from your company (see ‘Automatic payments to customers for service failings’ below). You can find out what you may be entitled to by speaking to your company.

If you have been affected by sewer flooding and you have not been able to resolve the issue with your water company, or with the Consumer Council for Water, then we would like to hear from you. We are unable to award compensation to you but we can look at whether the company is complying with their legal duties. You can contact us at casemanagementoffice@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk.

United Utilities’ customers in Lancashire will receive compensation after boil water incident

United Utilities’ customers in Lancashire are being  compensated between £50-60 each from the company– after advice to boil their tap water was lifted.

United Utilities advised customers in Lancashire on 6 August 2015 to boil their tap water, as a precautionary measure, after discovering traces of the cryptosporidium parasite in local water supplies. The company announced that water supplies were back to normal on 6 September.

After agreement with customer representatives, including the Consumer Council for Water, United Utilities has announced details of the compensation that customers will receive.

Speaking about the incident, Richard Khaldi, Ofwat’s Senior Director of Customers and Casework said:

“It was vital to customers’ trust and confidence  that the company resolved the incident as quickly and safely as possible. We will now await the results of the investigation by the Drinking Water Inspectorate – the water quality regulator ‒ on the incident. We will be watching with interest to see whether there are any wider issues or lessons learned that need to be considered.”

In terms of compensation, he added:

“We were clear with United Utilities that they needed to listen to customers and treat them fairly. It’s only right that the company should pay compensation, and recognise the considerable inconvenience customers have faced over the last few weeks. And it’s only fair that this compensation will come at the expense of the company, not customers”.

News in brief

How we plan to decrease consumer harm

The best result for customers is if water companies sort out complaints, disputes or service failures without us having to investigate. So we have launched a new plan to, among other things, to make it clearer to companies how we expect them to behave or (where we have taken a decision on a complaint, dispute or service failure) how they should change. You can find out more on our website.

Automatic payments to customers for service failings

Water and wastewater customers are entitled to a minimum standard of service.  If companies fail to meet these standards, you may be automatically entitled to a payment under the guaranteed standards scheme (GSS). For example, you may receive a payment if the company does not respond to your complaint within ten working days. You can find out more on on our website.

Decision clarifies rules on companies and developers paying their fair share towards water investment

We recently published our final decision into a dispute about what share developers should contribute towards a water company’s water main. Our decision may help provide further clarity to companies and developers in agreeing their fair share of costs for paying for investment in water mains, sewers and other infrastructure.

Building a new property? Charges you may have to pay for water connections

If you are building or redeveloping a property, your water company may ask you to pay a charge to contribute towards the improvements needed to water mains, sewers and other infrastructure to meet increasing demand from new customers. These are called ‘infrastructure charges’. You can find out how companies develop these charges, and our limited role in dealing with disputes in this area on our website.

Making sure customers of the smallest monopoly companies are ‘no worse off’

Most customers in England and Wales receive their water and wastewater services from one of 18 regional monopoly water companies. But some customers are served by a number of other, smaller monopoly suppliers. We make sure that customers of these are no worse off than they would be if they still received their services from the regional water company. As part of this, we have updated the way we assess applications to become a smaller monopoly supplier – known as a new appointee and variation. But if you have a complaint about them, speak to them in the normal way. You can find more information on making a complaint on our website.

Are you eligible to switch your supplier?

Most businesses and other non-household customers in England will be able to choose their water and wastewater retailer from April 2017. Retail services include things like billing and customer service. You can find out if you will be eligible – or if you already are – by reading our updated guidance.

How should businesses be protected in the new retail market?

From April 2017 1.2 million businesses and other non-household customers in England will be able to choose their water and wastewater service retailer. We have recently published our plans to protect business and other non-household customers in the new retail water market from 2017. This includes a recent consultation on extending guaranteed service standards (GSS) to retailers.

Useful links

Coming up in the next issue

In the next issue we will be looking at:

  • our guidance to companies on charging for new connections;
  • what to do if you think a company is being anti-competitive; and
  • information for customers that own pumping stations that are being transferred to water companies.

Feedback

Do you have any comments on this issue of On the Case? Send your feedback here.