Council’s Water Champion slams Southern Water over customer complaints

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Lewes District Council’s Water Champion has hit out at Southern Water over the high number of customer complaints it receives and the way these are handled.

Councillor Emily O’Brien, who is also Cabinet Member for Climate, Nature and Food Systems, has spoken out following the publication of the Consumer Council for Water’s (CCW’s) annual household customer complaints report.

The watchdog found that Southern Water was the ‘most complained about’ company, receiving almost three times more complaints than the overall average for waste and sewerage companies.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Councillor O’Brien said: “Southern Water receives far and away the most complaints in the country for a water company. Not only are residents not getting the service from Southern Water that they need but to compound matters, when complaints are lodged, many of these are handled poorly and with delays. We raised this issue direct with Southern Water on Thursday and made it clear residents expect better.”

Councillor Emily O’BrienCouncillor Emily O’Brien
Councillor Emily O’Brien

The CCW named Southern Water and Thames Water as the ‘standout poor performers’ in handling complaints from customers over the past year and that their customers are ‘being let down by a failure to understand and deal with the causes of high levels of complaints’. The report revealed there were 232,817 household complaints made to water companies in England and Wales in 2022/23.

Katy Taylor, Chief Customer Officer at Southern Water, said: “We recognise that we need to do better at serving our customers and fixing their problems. As part of the Turnaround Plan we launched in April to improve our performance across the board, we made better customer service a cornerstone.

"This is why we are investing in video diagnostics, multi skilling our customer service agents and keeping our customers regularly informed when issues take longer to fix. While we are seeing early signs of improvement in the quality and speed we deal with their queries, we know we still have a lot of work to do and are committed to significant improvements.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

On Thursday (October 5), Lewes District Council held a panel meeting to scrutinise Southern Water.

Councillor Paul Keene, Chair of the PPAC (Policy, Performance and Advisory Committee) Southern Water Panel, said: “The public should be confident the Panel is holding Southern Water to account and called them in to discuss the acceptability of their poor performance.

“Working in tandem with the Water Champion, the Panel was very pleased Southern Water accepted its failings as outlined by panel members in the meeting. The situation is so bad that both parties agreed there is visceral tension around all the issues the public are aware of, but both parties have agreed on the need to collaborate and we are committed to doing everything we can as a council both to highlight the problems and to help Southern Water find answers.”

While the panel and the Water Champion are independent of each other, they are both working to hold Southern Water to account. The council has been challenging the water firm on its actions for more than two years, passing a motion in 2021 that called on Southern Water to say how it will stop discharges of raw sewage in the district.