This blog was co-authored by Ofwat’s Senior Director of Corporate Communications Claire Forbes and CCW’s Head of Policy Delivery Jenny Suggate.
Having your home or garden flooded with sewage is one of the worst things to experience as a customer. While it affects only a small proportion of people, its impact – and a poor response from the wastewater company– can cause misery.
Earlier this year CCW and Ofwat published joint research on customers’ experiences of sewer flooding inside and outside the home. This showed that while wastewater companies’ initial responses could be positive, overall, poor service from companies was leaving customers feeling frustrated, angry and anxious.
Following the research, Ofwat and CCW met with chief executives of wastewater companies about the findings. At that meeting, companies committed to improve their service, and to share ideas to learn from each other.
Pushing waste water companies to do more
Last week, CCW and Ofwat met with wastewater companies once more to hear what progress has been made. We repeated what we expect to see from wastewater companies’ in response to sewer flooding: continuous improvement in communication, response times and quality of clean up – particularly for customers suffering repeatedly. Most importantly, companies must put the customer and their needs first. Empathetic and personalised case management is a critical factor here. This means, for example, providing a single named point of contact for customers.
If a customer gets in touch about internal sewer flooding, wastewater companies should respond within two hours, with a similar four-hour target for external flooding. Companies being proactive – for example, in anticipating where flooding might occur during bad weather – can help reduce incidents and their severity. And finally, customers who suffer from sewer flooding in their homes or gardens shouldn’t be out of pocket.
Response times and same day clean ups
During the workshop, several companies shared how they are working to make a distressing experience as easy as possible for customers. Some companies reported progress in achieving the two- and four-hour targets, as well as offering same-day clean ups. One wastewater company representative emphasised how what happens during the first visit after an incident can set the tone for the customer’s entire experience: “Start it well and it ends well.”
Often responsibilities for sewer flooding incidents cut across different agencies, including the wastewater company, or local authorities. Immediately after an incident, it’s not always clear who is responsible. Here, we welcomed companies’ commitment to doing the right thing for the customer first and sorting out where responsibilities lie afterwards.
Keeping our focus
As our joint research highlights, the lasting effects of sewer flooding can include psychological and emotional damage, leaving people in vulnerable circumstances. We want to see companies learn from past experiences and demonstrate continual improvement. Together, CCW and Ofwat will continue to support and track companies’ progress in driving improvements. We will be repeating the research in future to find out from customers directly what difference this has made.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sewer flooding, CCW have information on ‘Sewer flooding, what to do if your home is affected’. CCW can also help if you’ve been unable to resolve a complaint with a water company.
More information on sewer flooding, its causes and water company performance is available on the Discover Water website.