Headlines: June 13th, 2003

Water companies have been told to learn from the best practices in the energy supply industry to improve the take-up of services which have been set up to meet the individual needs of disabled and elderly customers.A review, commissioned by water industry regulator, Ofwat, and conducted by the customer representative body, WaterVoice, has looked into how water companies in England and Wales were implementing the regulator’s guidelines on services for disabled consumers and pensioners. It concluded that most were following the guidelines in offering a wide variety of services, but that take-up varied significantly between companies.

Ofwat is supporting the review’s main recommendations that it should publish the total number of customers registered for assistance annually as a means of raising awareness of the availability of services for individual needs. At the same it is being recommended that WaterVoice should encourage companies to develop stronger links with care and advice agencies. The review noted that companies that had good relationships with specialist organisations, such as the RNIB and MENCAP, gained a far greater insight into the needs of people with disabilities and had developed better policies.

The study shows the number of people who registered for specific help in the water industry was considerably lower than in the energy sector. At the end of 2002, only 74,000 disabled and elderly customers were listed by the water companies compared to more than half a million in the electricity sector and nearly 700,000 registered with gas companies.

Ofwat is to look at the energy sector to see what lessons can be learnt by water companies and it will also update its own guidelines to implement other recommendations in the study. Proposed additions include ensuring that access to a water meter is convenient for disabled and elderly customers and allowing customers to apply electronically for specific assistance from their water company.