General water complaints are the biggest category of issue for water customers who contact us. These complaints are usually about things such the behaviour of contractors or legislative requirements. Other complaints about water providers relate to high bills and customer service issues such as failure to respond and poor service, as seen below.  

Graph showing water complaints received Oct-Dec 2020

Table 9 — Water top 5 issues Oct to Dec 2020, including previous quarters

Primary and secondary issue Oct-Dec 2020 Jul-Sep 20 Apr-Jun 20 Jan-Mar 20 Oct-Dec 19
Billing > High > Disputed 27 34 40 44 42
General > Energy/water 37 32 30 32 30
Customer service > Failure to respond 18 20 26 28 33
Customer service > poor service 17 13 25 33 38
Land > network assets > maintenance 11 12 17 14 27

The highest number of complaints were complaint enquiries, as seen in the table below.

Table 10 - Complaint breakdown - Water - Oct-Dec 2020

Complaint type Number of complaints Total %
General enquiry 6 3.8%
Complaint enquiry 92 58.6%
Refer to Higher Level 37 23.6%
Investigated 22 14%
Total 157 100%

Case studies

Calculation and application of rebates

The calculation and application of rebates may be difficult for customers to understand. This difficulty is often exacerbated when customers are experiencing personal difficulties and financial distress.  

Pensioner unclear on rebate eligibility after death of husband

A customer told us that she was an age pensioner and her late husband was also an age pensioner. She said that they previously received the full pensioner rebate on water bills. She considered that after her husband died, the rebate was removed from the water account. 

She contacted the water provider which advised it could only apply 50% of the rebate because her son, who was not a pensioner, was also listed as an account holder. She said that her son did not live at the supply address and that her name was incorrectly changed to “The Estate Of” on the bills. Further, the bills were putting her under financial distress, noting that there were increased costs due to COVID-19. She said that she had contacted the water provider on multiple occasions and was not happy with the customer service she received.  

We contacted the water provider about the complaint. Following a review of the available information, we advised the customer that the water provider had appropriately applied 50% of the pensioner concession to the billing of the account, in accordance with the eligibility criteria, and that the account holder names had been corrected. We also provided general information about the pensioner rebate. In response to the customer’s financial concerns We also referred the customer to the water provider’s customer assistance team to discuss flexible payment options and the Payment Assistance Scheme (PAS).

Similar complaints from customers

We received similar complaints from customers regarding the calculation and application of rebates, including where there are multiple people living at the premises. This highlights the need for rebate information to be available to customers, which can assist them to understand the eligibility requirements, the calculation method and application process.

Claims processes

Customers may incur costs due to water related problems. Limited access to, or knowledge of, claim processes can create difficulties for customers. 

Customer engages private plumber, when provider would have fixed the problem for free

A customer told us that blocked sewerage drains had caused flooding in her yard. She engaged a plumber to clear the drains. The plumber fixed the problem and charged $220 for the works. The customer said that her water provider sent a letter confirming it was responsible for the blockage and advised it could have repaired the issue without any cost to her. The provider also said it would review whether the customer could be reimbursed for the plumber’s costs. 

The customer was then told that if she had contacted the water provider before engaging a private plumber, it would have arranged the work without any cost to her. The provider said that because she engaged a private plumber, they would not reimburse the costs.

We referred the customer back to the water provider at a higher level, with the customer’s agreement, knowing she could return to us if the matter was not resolved satisfactorily.

Similar complaints from customers

We received other similar complaints about claims declined by water providers. The costs incurred by customers may create significant financial difficulties. Providing information to customers about claim requirements may assist customers to make decisions about repairs.