Performance commentary 2011-12

Here, we summarise the overall performance of the monopoly water and sewerage and water only companies in England and Wales during 2011-12 and any action we are taking as a result.

This is part of our new approach to holding water companies to account.

You can find more information about the performance of your local water and sewerage or water only company on their website.

If you cannot find this information you should speak to your company.

Overall performance


Customer experience

In 2011-12, the companies scored an average of 75 out of 100 for customer service. This ranged from 85 ‒ Affinity Water East (formerly Veolia East), Bristol Water, Sembcorp Bournemouth Water and Wessex Water ‒ to 56 (South East Water).

Each company’s customer service score is based on the number of customer enquiries and complaints they receive (‘customer contacts’) – and how satisfied customers were with the way the company dealt with them.

The number of written complaints that the companies received fell by more than 22,000 last year. This is the fourth year in a row that complaints have fallen.

Customer satisfaction with the overall manner in which the companies handled their concerns was high. We asked 16,000 customers to give us their view of how well their company did on a scale of 1 to 5 (where 5 indicates they were ‘very satisfied’). The average result for all the companies in 2011-12 was 4.34.

In other news, three companies identified issues with the number of supply interruptions that their customers experienced last year. All three companies have put plans in place to get things right.

Did you know that water companies must maintain certain basic guaranteed standards of service (GSS)? If they do not, affected customers must receive a payment. Find out more about your services and the standards you should expect.

Action we are taking

Customer contacts and satisfaction form part of our service incentive mechanism (SIM). The SIM is one of the ways in which we encourage the companies to improve their performance. You can find out how this works by reading our SIM factsheet.

Customers are generally satisfied with the service they received in 2011-12. This does not mean that services are perfect, but where service failures have occurred companies have explained how they have (or will) put things right for their customers. So, we are not taking any further action against any company in this area.

Environmental impact

The water and the sewerage sectors can have a significant impact on the environment. For example, poorly maintained sewers can lead to the discharge of raw sewage into a river. So the companies are required to maintain their networks and manage their operations effectively.

The Environment Agency recently reported that the number of serious pollution incidents caused by water companies increased from 65 in 2010 to 120 in 2011. A number of companies have reported issues with their environmental performance in this area. We are concerned that there may be a link between the performance of companies in this area and how well they are maintaining and managing their assets.

In other news ‒ the companies reported that together they emitted the equivalent of about 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2011-12. This is 6% lower than the year before (2010-11). The activities the companies carry out can generate a large volume of greenhouse gases. For example, treating and pumping water and sewage uses a lot of energy. The companies are expected to reduce their emissions where it is economic to do so and in customers’ interest.

Action we are taking

Where companies have identified issues with their performance, we are following these up with them to make sure they get back on track. We will also be considering whether there is a possible link between the number of pollution incidents and the companies’ maintenance and operation of their assets – and whether we need to take any action.  We will provide an update on this page should we decide to take further action.

If companies fail to deliver the agreed environmental performance, we and the Environment Agency will consider together what action we each need to take to protect the environment and customers’ interests.

The Environment Agency sets legal requirements that the companies must meet to protect the environment. So, it is responsible for taking action if the companies fail to deliver these requirements.

We are responsible for making sure that the companies deliver the environmental improvements that customers pay for in their water and sewerage bills. We can take action where the companies fail to deliver these improvements – for example, by making them pay back money for things they did not deliver.

Reliability and availability

In 2011-12, all of the companies met their targets for reducing water leaks from their networks. The level of leakage is now at its lowest level since records began in the early 1990s. And the water saved is equivalent to meeting the needs of 1.7 million people every day.

As a result of exceptionally low rainfall over the previous two winters, some companies in the south and east of England had to impose temporary restrictions on customers’ non-essential water usage in spring 2012. This is in line with the plans for dealing with drought that all companies are required to prepare and carry out if necessary. Customers also responded to the drought by voluntarily reducing their water use. But higher than average rainfall over the summer led to these restrictions being lifted. Overall, companies are able to provide us with reassurance that they are able to supply enough water to meet their customers’ needs. Find out more about why water companies sometimes need to restrict water supplies.

Each company is required to maintain its assets (such as water and sewerage treatment works, and underground networks of water mains and sewers) to a certain standard so that it can provide reliable services to you over the long term ‒ and protect the environment. We call this ‘stable serviceability’.

When a company is not maintaining its assets effectively, there will be a rise in the number of incidents such as burst water mains or sewers overflowing. So it is important they get it right.

Companies have told us that overall, they maintained their assets to a sufficient standard in 2011-12 – although there has been a rise in the number of pollution incidents from companies’ assets (see the environmental impact section).

Action we are taking

We are concerned that a rise in the number of pollution incidents that the companies reported during 2011-12 may be linked to how well the companies are maintaining and operating their underground networks.

We discuss this in more detail in the environmental impact section.


It is important that companies are financially sustainable so they can continue to deliver services to customers. It is also important that we check they are making the investment in services they promised they would deliver.

Compared with 2010-11, the companies’:

  • revenue from customers increased by 4.8% to £10.5 billion – but stayed the same in real terms after inflation is taken into account
  • pre-tax profits were down by £285 million this year, at £1.72 billion
  • dividend payments to shareholders were £643 million (or 42%) higher at £2.16 billion. But this year included £152 million of dividends related to the previous year, and special dividends of £302 million. Special dividends are one-off payments

The companies have now invested about £108 billion in services since privatisation.

You can also read your company’s regulatory accounts to find out more about their performance.

Find out more about why water companies need to make profits.

Action we are taking

No companies have identified any problems in this area.