‘Unprecedented’ fall in water firm customer satisfaction amid pollution failings

Consumer trust in water companies risks being “irreversibly damaged” unless they see a sustained improvement in the sector’s care of the environment, an annual survey has found.

Household satisfaction with water companies across all measures has seen an unprecedented decline, the Consumer Council for Water found.

The survey of almost 5,000 households, which has been taken for 13 years, recorded the starkest decline in customer satisfaction with how companies clean and manage wastewater before its release back into the environment. Just 35% were satisfied with this, compared to 88% a decade ago.

Satisfaction with companies’ efforts to minimise sewer flooding has also plummeted over the same period, falling to 43% compared to 85% in 2014.

Just half of households agreed their company cared about the service it provided, also down 14%, while 55% felt what they were being charged for services was fair, down 9% from last year to its lowest ever level.

Trust in water companies also reached its lowest level – a score of 6.37 out of 10 – since the survey began. Every water company saw its trust score fall, with energy suppliers overtaking water for the first time as a more trusted utility across England and Wales.

Companies in the south east of England generally fared worse but the picture elsewhere – particularly on environmental matters – remained broadly negative.

The findings come just weeks before regulator Ofwat publishes its draft determinations on what water companies in England and Wales can charge customers over the next five years, with bills expected to rise significantly over the period.

As the price review nears its conclusion, CCW said the biggest challenge facing companies was convincing customers they could be trusted to protect the environment, with just a third (33%) saying they were satisfied with the industry’s current efforts.

CCW chief executive Mike Keil said: “These are the worst results we’ve ever seen in our survey and it largely stems from customers’ concerns over companies’ environmental performance. It’s little surprise people are questioning whether they are getting a fair deal.

“Trust won’t be rebuilt and customers will not tolerate future bill rises unless they see and feel a step change in the service they receive from their water company – whether that’s having the confidence to swim at their local beach or experiencing a more reliable water supply. If customers are going to be asked to pay considerably more, they have a right to expect far more in return.”

A Water UK spokeswoman said: “Water companies are proposing record investment to ensure the security of our water supply and significantly reduce the amount of sewage entering rivers and seas. This investment will bring tangible benefits for customers and go towards 10 new reservoirs and reducing sewage spills by 40%.

“Bill increases are never welcome, but companies are massively increasing the level of financial support they offer with more than three million households set to be helped with bills.”