South East Water probed by watchdog after 'failing too many' customers

South East Water being probed by watchdog after ‘failing too many’ of its 2.2 million customers ‘too often’

  • The firm is currently the worst performer for supply interruptions, Ofwat said 

South East Water is being investigated by the watchdog after ‘too many customers have been failed too often’ by the supplier.

Ofwat, which regulates water firms in England and Wales, said it is probing possible failures by the utility company to develop and maintain an efficient water supply system.

It comes after the firm imposed a hosepipe ban earlier this year, blaming more people working from home for ramping up demand and ‘testing’ its infrastructure.

South East Water serves about 2.2million households and businesses in Surrey, Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire. 

It is currently the worst performer for water supply interruptions in England and Wales, Ofwat said, with the firm forced to give out bottled drinking water in some areas earlier this year.

Industry watchdog Ofwat has launched an investigation into South East Water over possible supply failures. Pictured: Staff from the firm give out bottled water at Headcorn aerodrome in Kent in June this year

Ofwat announced it was opening the investigation into South East Water on Thursday morning

Over 2022-23 an average of more than three hours of supply was lost per property, compared with the company’s performance commitment level of about five minutes and 45 seconds, according to the regulator.

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The firm was summoned to an urgent meeting in June after imposing its hosepipe ban, when it was flagged that its supply resilience was below what is expected.

A spell of hot weather led thousands of properties to experience interruptions, low pressure, or have their supply cut off during the summer, with some schools forced to close.

Ofwat chief executive David Black said: ‘Providing reliable water supplies is at the heart of a water company’s responsibilities.

‘Too many customers have been failed too often by South East Water.

‘That’s why we are now carrying out a thorough investigation into the company and its service to customers.

‘We are clear that water companies must do more to regain public trust and it must start with better service.

‘Where this does not happen, we will use all of our powers to ensure the sector delivers better value for both customers and the environment.’

Ofwat added that the utility firm was categorised as ‘lagging behind’ in its latest performance report and had been ordered to publish a plant by the end of November on how it would address its under performance, including in supply interruptions.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) said it is supporting Ofwat’s investigation because customers’ trust in the supplier has been ‘undermined by the company’s repeated poor handling of supply interruptions’.

Chief executive Mike Keil said: ‘There was considerable anger and frustration among many people who felt unsupported, compounded by the company’s poor communication.

The utility firm issued a hosepipe ban across large parts of south east England earlier this year

A view of Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex in September 2022 when it fell to 30 per cent its normal capacity amid a long heatwave

‘Customers have a right to expect better from an essential service provider.’

A spokesperson for South East Water said: ‘We acknowledge the decision by Ofwat to open this investigation.

‘Resilience forms a major focus for South East Water both now, and as a significant part of our PR24 business plan which has been submitted to Ofwat.

‘We intend to fully cooperate with Ofwat on this matter.

‘To see the plan go to’

In the last 12 months thousands of South East Water customers have been left without running water following a litany of failures.

READ MORE HERE:  South East Water slumps to a £74m loss due to extreme weather as sector struggles under £65bn debt load

Burst pipes from freeze-thaw hit 286,000 properties in December, while hot weather in June left 6,000 homes with water interruptions, low pressures or having their supply cut off. A number of schools were also affected.

The company said that soaring temperatures are continuing to impact its ability to supply drinking water to all customers, leading it to impose a hosepipe ban across Sussex and Kent that came into force on 26 June.

‘Following six weeks with almost no rainfall, demand for water consistently exceeded the capacity at which we can supply all our customers,’ it said.

Weeks after the summer chaos the firm, which has paid two of its bosses £1.7million combined in pay and bonuses over two years, announced it had slumped to a £74million loss. South East Water blamed the 2022 heatwave and extreme weather for this.

The company admitted that it lost 92million litres of water a day through leaks on a three-year rolling average in 2021/22. 

Following the supply issues in the summer, which saw South East Water issue the first hosepipe ban in the country this year, Ofwat wrote to the firm to demand a meeting. 

Ofwat boss David Black said June the ‘resilience of supplies is well below what would be expected’ and revealed his concern at the hosepipe ban being brought in during the first hot weather of the year.

Mr Black claimed South East Water is one of the sector’s worst performers and it needs ‘transformative change’. 

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