Water firms failed customers affected by the ‘beast from the east’

Ofwat has said that water company failings left 200,000 households in England and Wales without water during the “beast from the east” snow storms earlier this year.

Snow and strong winds in February and March this year caused disruption all over the UK. Many of the problems people faced were when temperatures rose and thawed ice caused flooding.

Ofwat said that many water companies in the north of England were well prepared and that it was only those in the south that were slow to react. They said: “Severn Trent and United Utilities share a border and faced similar weather conditions but their customers had extremely different experiences.”

Rachel Fletcher, chief executive of Ofwat told four of the main water companies including Thames Water, Southern Water, South East Water and Severn Trent, that customers had been badly let down.

Fletcher said: “Many customers were effectively left to fend for themselves, with local bodies and volunteers having to fill the gap.”

She added that there had been “radio silence on what was happening, [with] businesses shut down and customers forced to make long journeys to pick up bottled water”.


Poor performance

The four worst performing companies have been ordered to produce a review of their emergency planning by September so the same thing doesn’t happen again.

Consumer Council for Water have said that almost three-quarters of customers affected didn’t receive alternative water supplies. Many high-priority cases such as schools and emergency services received little or no communication at the time.

While the “beast from the east” has been deemed a one-off event, the weather was not unprecedented.

“The freeze and rapid thaw earlier this year was forecast and was not unprecedented. A number of water companies showed what can be done to serve customers in the face of bad weather. But too many companies were caught off-guard and let people down, causing real hardship as a result. Our report shows there is no excuse for this level of failure,” Fletcher said in a statement.


Inadequate pay outs

The compensation pay out totalled £7 million. However, Ofwat has said that households could be owed much high compensation pay outs than previously promised.

They said that compensations pay outs were inadequate to cover the experiences that some customers went through.

“We are concerned that the current compensation arrangements – the guaranteed standard scheme – are not reflective of the impact on customers of being without water for a prolonged period. We intend to launch a consultation by the end of July 2018 with a view to making proposals to revise the GSS.”

Michael Roberts from Water UK, representative of the water companies said:

“The impact varied across the country, with Ofwat saying that fewer than 3% of all customers were affected. But we’re sorry to say that in some areas significant numbers of customers experienced disruption and hardship, and we are determined to prevent this happening again in future.”