On the Case – June 2015

Welcome

Welcome to the first 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 how home builders will benefit from a better level of service from water companies. We also explain a new scheme that could help you get your complaints sorted out.

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New service standards to benefit home builders

New standards mean that home builders and other developers will benefit from a better quality service from their local monopoly water company. But why – and what are they?

The new standards, which were launched in April 2015, set out the number of days that customers can expect water companies to take in delivering a range of services.

In agreeing the service standards, companies consulted with their customers to make sure they covered the things that mattered to them. For example, companies should take no longer than:

  • 21 days for pre-development enquiries for both water mains and sewers;
  • 90 days to construct new water mains;
  • 180 days to construct new sewers; and
  • five days to acknowledge applications for customers to use their own contractors (‘self-lay organisations’) that they want to self-lay their own water mains.

If your company fails to meet these standards in delivering services to you, you should speak to them. This gives them the chance to put right any problems first.

Water UK – the industry representative body – will publish reports every three months on companies’ performance against the standards from July 2015. This will challenge and encourage companies to continuously improve the services they offer as they jostle to be at the top of the league table.

We have welcomed the launch of the new service standards. It follows the work we, the UK Government and water companies have been doing since 2014 to improve customer experience for developers. This included:

  • clarifying our expectations of how water companies provide and charge for new connections to their infrastructure;  and
  • working with the Government and other regulators to produce ‘Better connected: a practical guide to utilities for home builders’ – an overall guide for developers on what they can expect from utilities companies.

Each company’s performance against the new standards will help us see where and how we focus our efforts to encourage companies to deliver better services to customers, particularly where they are lagging behind other companies or not meeting legal requirements.

New body to help you sort out complaints

Are you having problems with water or wastewater services? There is a new organisation – The Water Redress Scheme (WATRS) – that can help. WATRS is a new independent organisation set up to help solve complaints which your water company, Ofwat or the Consumer Council for Water cannot. WATRS can investigate and make decisions that water companies must legally accept.

Speaking about the new scheme, Richard Khaldi, Ofwat’s Senior Director – Customers and Casework, said:

“We want customers to be happy with the service they receive from their water companies. WATRS provides an important safety net for customers that in the past had no other option but to go to court and experience the distress, time and expense that this involves.”

Ofwat only has powers to deal with a limited range of complaints and disputes. For further information, visit our ‘Complaints’ webpage. Other organisations, such as Citizens Advice, can provide you with advice on how to make a complaint.

Water meters: your rights

Most people now pay for how much water they use at home using a free water meter.

water meter lets your water company know how much water you use. This means your water bill will not be a fixed amount each year. It will go up or down depending on how much water you use. So you could save money by using less water. Your water company will fit a meter free of charge if you ask it.

But some people like paying a fixed price, so do they have to have a water meter?

“Your company can fit a meter at your home at any time, and you can’t ask to get rid of it. Even if you are the new owner. But there are rules on whether they can make you pay using it. And if you ask to have a water meter fitted, you can go back to paying a fixed price if you change your mind within 12 months”, explains Brigitte Gaylor, Senior Associate at Ofwat.

You can find out more about your rights by speaking to your water company or the Consumer Council for Water.

News in brief

Improving information companies give you about your right to ‘self-lay’

We recently wrote to all water companies to tell them to review the information they provide you about your right to choose an independent contractor to install water mains and sewers (‘self-lay’) – instead of your local water company. This followed our final decision on a case involving Bristol Water.

Help us to help you by sending us the right information about your complaint

Ofwat only deals with a limited number of complaints and disputes. To help us deal with your complaint, you can find some tips on our website on the information you need to send us. You can also learn more about  who to complain to if you have a problem.

Unhappy with a water company working on your land? No need to suffer in silence

Water companies have the power to install and work on pipes on your land. If you are unhappy with how they did it, there is no need to suffer in silence. You should first contact the company – and if you are still unhappy, we may be able to investigate. In a recent case, we told one company to pay a customer £1,500 after it failed to adequately consult them when using its powers.

Home builder with connection problems? We want to connect with you

If you are a home builder or developer and are frustrated with the service you have received from water companies – or have good practice experiences you want to share, including details of how companies’ service impacted on you – we want to hear from you. You can send us your stories at onthecase@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk. This will help us focus on the issues that matter to you.

Useful links

Coming up in the next issue

In the next issue we will be looking at:

  • what happens if your property is flooded with sewage;
  • what happens if you want a water meter but can’t have one; and
  • what compensation you can get if your company fails to deliver a satisfactory standard of service.

If you have any other ideas for the next issue, tell us at onthecase@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk.

Feedback

Do you have any comments on this issue of On the Case? Send your feedback to onthecase@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk.

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