Water compensation fiasco

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Households and businesses in Crowborough left without water for days before Christmas are complaining the water company is not compensating them fairly.

South East Water have written to some customers apologising for the loss of supply and informing them their accounts would be credited with £75. However other residential customers have been awarded a much higher amount of £250. Whilst others are yet to be told if they are getting any compensation.

The compensation letter from the water company explain that as a result of the “rapid thaw” in December they saw a 300 per cent increase in bursts and leaks. Across their supply area they say they lost 100 million litres of water in a very short space of time. They refer to their Guaranteed Standards of Service which sets out standards and payments. However, the water company explain they are not required to make payments where supplies have been affected by circumstances out of their control, such as extreme weather. Despite this, they have still decided to do so in these exceptional circumstances.

The table at the back of their Code of Practice explains for the payments they will make:

First 12 hours £30 and a further £30 for each 12 hour period

(water retailers £75 per 12 hour period)

Tanya Sephton, Customer Services Director, said:

Following extreme temperature changes in December, we are working hard to compensate business and household customers for the disruption to their water supplies.

We abide by our Customer Code of Practice which forms part of our Guaranteed Standards of Service for household customers and is based on the requirements of the Water Act.

Because the loss of water supplies was caused by extreme weather, we were not required to provide compensation but chose to do so in these exceptional circumstances.

In total, we refunded £4.7 million to nearly 33,000 customers’ bills.  A further 301 non-household customers will be refunded £128,000 through their retailer. The value of individual compensation will depend on the severity of the disruption experienced.

Many of the towns and villages affected will also benefit from community funds totalling £180,000.

We value all businesses within our community and we’re very sorry to any business which was impacted by these unprecedented events. Business compensation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and we encourage any affected business owners to contact us.

Although leaks and bursts do happen on our 9,000 miles of pipes and customers’ own water pipework, we have committed to invest more than £489 million to upgrade and improve our water network from 2020 to 2025.

Customer Services Director, South East Water

South East Water are carry out a review of the incident, they say to “learn and improve our service to ensure this doesn’t happen again”. They invite feedback via their website: www.southeastwater.co.uk.

Our MP, Nusrat Ghani, has said that she is concerned that a number of residents have either not received adequate compensation, or have been informed that they are not entitled to any compensation from South East Water.  There is a dedicated platform on her website, where residents can share their concerns.

Nusrat Ghani MP said:

South East Water have failed Wealden residents in the run up to Christmas when water supply was disrupted for several days, and they are failing them now by overcomplicating the compensation system and spreading misinformation.

I have been campaigning for full financial compensation for all customers that were impacted in December and for many it has been forthcoming. However, I was most concerned by reports that some residents have either not received compensation, have been told that they were not eligible for it, or have been told that a financial contribution to the community will be made instead.  I had many exchanges with the Chief Executive of South East Water every day of the December outage, but have not been involved in any discussions regarding community contributions and I continue to push for fair and timely compensation to all households that were affected.

I appreciate the misery that South East Water have caused and I will be seeking further explanations at my upcoming meeting with them.

Nusrat Ghani MP

The last time thousands of households were left without water for a long period of time in Crowborough and Rotherfield was in February 2018. After the “Beast from the East” as it was labelled, Ofwat published a report Out in the Cold about the performance of water companies across the country and what they should do to improve their service.

The Consumer Council for Water is the statutory consumer body for the water industry. Their role is to offer independent advice and help to customers who have been unable to resolve a complaint with their water company.

Catherine Jones, Head of Company Engagement for the Consumer Council for Water, said:

Ordinarily customers would receive statutory compensation for this type of disruption but South East Water says it is not compelled to do this as the weather was extreme – something we disagree with. Our climate has become far more volatile and what might have been extreme 20 years ago isn’t necessarily exceptional now – companies should be adapting to the weather, not using it as an excuse. Companies should also not get to decide what constitutes extreme conditions.

We’re pleased the company has at least made goodwill payments but its communication with customers over the differing amounts it has awarded and reasons behind it has fallen short of what customers have a right to expect. If people feel their payment has been incorrectly calculated, or their circumstances have not been fully taken into account, we’d urge them to contact the company directly.

Head of Company Engagement for the Consumer Council for Water

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1 COMMENT

  1. The whole question of compensation is a bit of a ‘mine field’ and if SEW has decided to take a hard line and no paid any compensation they would have been within their rights.My water was off from Sunday evening until early Thursday morning. Without making any approach to the water company I received the letter advising that £75 credit had been made to my account. I was quite happy with that.
    My main criticism of SEW was the lack of communication. I completed the request for emailed up dated but the only messages received was after the supply had returned and that was to tell me that I had water.

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