As part of Ofwat and CCW’s incident research programme, we have today published research findings into customer experiences of a boil water notice.
The report considers the experience of Anglian Water customers in relation to a boil water notice issued to residents in Lincolnshire between 14 and 17 July. We expect all water companies to read this report and consider how they can use its findings to improve their plans for how to respond in future, should an incident of this type occur.
- Communication: The communication of boil water notices is of essential importance for this type of incident. Customers valued timely and varied methods of communication. They thought it important for a company to adopt a clear and assertive tone. Customers wanted to know the start time and cause of the incident. Participants in the research felt that not knowing the cause made it harder to assess the risk and make decisions, and it also led to speculation.
“There were rumours of raw sewage in the water.”
“Was it contaminated or was it just not up to full standard? What level of danger is it, you know?”
“[W]e didn’t know if it was some kind of chemical incident or something.”
“Very, very low-key…virtually dismissive of there being any problem at all.”
- Water deliveries: Priority services customers appreciated receiving alternative water supplies, in sufficient quantities, quickly. To maximise the benefits of this, companies should ensure customers are aware that the water has been left for them and consider whether they are able to carry the water inside. They should also explain more widely that only certain priority customers will receive such deliveries.
“It was seamless, they just knew we needed it and brought it and left it at the right house.”
“One of my neighbours, she’s got very bad arthritis, and I popped over to see her and they’d left these massive two litre bottles and she couldn’t pick it up.”
- Post incident: Communications following the incident are vital for reassuring customers that the problem is over and future risks are being managed. They are also an opportunity for a company to further apologise for any inconvenience and provide information on compensation, if applicable. Companies should also consider the appropriate amount of compensation relative to any incident. After this incident, Anglian Water gave affected customers a £15 credit on their account.
“£15, that’s great, we weren’t expecting anything.”
“£15 is a bit insulting to be honest.”
“We’re on a prepaid meter and running out of electricity with a 3-year-old [saying] ‘why’s the telly not working daddy?’”
Ofwat will use the findings from this research to inform our approach to monitoring companies’ compliance with our new customer-focused licence condition. The aim of the licence condition, which we plan to introduce in early 2024, is for water companies to achieve high standards of customer service and support for the full diversity of customer needs.
Ofwat and CCW set up our incident research programme to better establish what customers’ expectations of companies are when incidents occur and how well these expectations are met. This report is the second to be published as part of this programme. The first report, on the experiences of South East Water customers during a water supply interruption in June, was published earlier this month.