Water - Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

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SCOTTISH PUBLIC SERVICES OMBUDSMAN ANNUAL COMPLAINTS REPORT 2012–2013

Learning from complaints

Improving complaints handling

Supporting public service improvement

WATER

This is one of a series of reports through which we are aiming to put key messages, information and analysis of complaints about individual sectors into the public domain. We anticipate that Parliamentary committees, government departments, scrutiny bodies, regulators and local authorities will find this an effective means of enhancing the learning from our work and identifying issues arising from the complaints we see. Equally, we hope it will prove useful to members of the public who seek more information about the kinds of complaints that are escalated to the SPSO and how we handle them.

CONTENTS

Ombudsman’s Introduction

4

Casework

6

Sharing the Learning

12

Case Studies

14

Water Cases Determined 2012/2013

18

OMBUDSMAN’S INTRODUCTION

I am pleased to report that the rate of water complaints coming to us too early has dropped from 56% in 2011/12 to 38% last year

This is our first full reporting year for complaints about water providers. In last year’s annual report, we concentrated on the transfer of water complaints to SPSO from Waterwatch Scotland, the complaints handling body that was abolished in August 2011. Water complaints are now fully integrated into our business processes and we are able to reflect in more detail on these.

An unusual jurisdiction As an Ombudsman for public services, our jurisdiction over water complaints is unusual. We are solely responsible for complaints about Scottish Water for domestic customers. The situation with business, or non-domestic, customers is more complicated and is unique for us. Services to non-domestic customers are usually provided through a licensed provider. Licensed providers are the only organisations that have the choice of opting in to our complaints service. The Water Industry Commission for Scotland can take complaints about any licensed providers that choose not to do so. In 2012/13, two new licensed providers (Thames Water and Veolia) opted to come under our jurisdiction, taking the current total to five.

SPSO ANNUAL COMPLAINTS REPORT 2012 > 2013 WATER PAGE 4

Despite some new entrants to the market, the single largest licensed provider remains Business Stream. Given their significant proportion of the market (over 95%), it is not surprising that last year we considered only one complaint about a licensed provider other than Business Stream.

Key trends in our figures With 353 complaints received about water providers in 2012/13, this sector makes up 8.5% of our workload. The single largest subject of complaint was billing and charging, representing 47% of all water complaints received. The rate of complaints reaching us too early, before the organisation’s complaints procedure has been completed, was a subject of concern in the first part-year in which we assumed responsibility for water complaints. I am pleased to report that this rate has improved significantly, falling from 56% in the 2011/12 period to 38% in 2012/13. I congratulate Scottish Water in particular for this reduction, which is a result of steps they have taken to enhance how they deal with dissatisfied customers.

OMBUDSMAN’S INTRODUCTION

Although recording differences make comparisons difficult, we note a general shift in workload from domestic to non-domestic service users. Much of this may be related to the difficult economic climate in which small businesses are operating, which may have encouraged business owners to look more closely at their outgoings, as well as other factors which are explored in this report in more detail. The overall uphold rate of complaints in the water sector was 45% compared with 44% la