This information is also contained in the Ofwat leaflet Protecting the interests of water customers.
Who are we?
Ofwat (the Office of Water Services) is responsible for making sure that the water and sewerage companies in England and Wales give you a good quality, efficient service at a fair price. We are a government department led by The Director General of Water Services.
What is the Director's role?
The Director is the economic regulator of the water industry. This means he sets limits on what the water and sewerage companies can charge. He also makes sure that the water and sewerage companies carry out their responsibilities under the Water Industry Act 1991. He protects the standards of service you receive, promotes economy and efficiency. He helps to make sure that effective competition can develop. He also compares the performance of different companies which helps the poor performers to rise to the standards of the best.
What about water quality?
The Director is not responsible for water quality and the environment. The Drinking Water Inspectorate oversees the quality of tap water. The Environment Agency is responsible for protecting the quality of rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.
What do we do?
Setting price limits
Water companies cannot charge what they want for supplying water and sewerage services.
Current price limits (which came into force on 1 April 1995) allow the companies to meet all their responsibilities to improve water quality and the environment. Average water bills are relatively stable or falling in real terms (in other words, not including inflation). However, sewerage bills have continued to rise for some customers, to pay for improved sewage treatment.
Ofwat will next reset price limits in 1999. The new limits will come into effect on 1 April 2000. The Director believes that customers would like to see the efficiencies made by the companies passed on to them in lower bills.
Each year we check that company charges are within the limits. We also check that the charges are fair between different types of customer - metered or unmetered, large or small, in towns or in the country. Charges should be broadly related to the cost of providing the service. So, whether you have a meter or not, the bill you pay should cover the cost of supplying you with the clean water you use, getting rid of your dirty water and draining water from around your home.
Economy and efficiency
Every year companies invest around £3 billion to improve their standards, especially in treating sewage. We check how companies perform to make sure that you get value for money.
We expect the companies to improve their services by being more efficient - not by putting the prices up.
Companies have targets that they must meet to reduce the amount of water that is lost from pipes. We check that they are also encouraging their customers to use water wisely. Most companies will repair leaks from your supply pipe free of charge.
We approve company codes of practice and give the companies guidelines to help them deliver a better service.
If you choose to have a meter, your water company should offer you a reasonably priced and customer-friendly metering scheme. Many companies will now fit meters free of charge.
We also check that companies are meeting their responsibilities, such as reducing the number of houses flooded from sewers.
We publish information about how companies perform and if there are problems we take action.
Guaranteed standards scheme
If a company does not meet any of its legally guaranteed standards, you are entitled to compensation (this is normally £10). The guaranteed standards cover:
- making and keeping appointments within agreed times;
- answering your questions and complaints within a set time;
- warning you of planned interruptions to the supply that are likely to last more than four hours;
- the time it takes to get your water back on after an interruption to the supply;
- the time it takes to put in a meter after the company receives your payment;
- making a payment if your property is flooded from the company sewer; and
- making a payment if the company fails to maintain a minimum water pressure.
We review the guaranteed standards scheme to make sure it reflects your needs and suggest improvements. You can get more information on the guaranteed standards from your local water company.
Many companies have compensation schemes which go beyond the minimum standards.
Where do the Customer Service Committees fit in?
The Director is required to set up ten regional Customer Service Committees(CSCs).These are independent of the water companies and the Director. They have their own legal duties. They look after you by representing your interests and closely monitoring the services water companies provide. They are also responsible for dealing with your complaints.
Committee Chairmen and members are local people with a wide range of backgrounds. The Director appoints them to represent everyone's interests. Each Committee is supported by a small team of full-time staff.
CSCs report to the Director and tell him about important subjects that affect you. They work closely with the Director in protecting your interests. The Committees hold their meetings in public.
If you would like to be considered as a member of a CSC, please ask for a copy of our leaflet.
A water watchdog role for you.
What is the Ofwat National Customer Council?
The Ofwat National Customer Council speaks for all water customers at the national and European levels. The chairman and members of the Council are the chairmen of the CSCs. The Director attends for part of every meeting.
The Council gives advice about your interests to the Director. It also helps him to develop policy and assists him in carrying out his duties to protect your interests.
One of the Council's main aims is to make sure that your voice is heard in Europe before new European directives, which may have an impact on bills, are finalised.
Making a complaint
If you have a problem or complaint about your water and sewerage service, you should speak or write to your local water company first. If you are not satisfied with the way your company deals with your complaint, tell them. They will deal with your complaint at a higher level.
If you need to know how to make a complaint, contact your local water company. By law, water and sewerage companies have to have a complaints procedure which we have approved. You can ask your company for a free copy.
If you have followed the company's complaints procedure and you are still not satisfied, you can ask us to investigate. Our services are free.
You should make your complaint to the CSC that is responsible for your local water company. There are a few minor exceptions to the allocation of customers to the CSCs. Where this applies we will ensure your complaint or enquiry is passed to the correct CSC to deal with.
You can get a leaflet summarising our complaints procedure How we can help if you have a complaint and a document setting out the full procedure free from your local CSC. The full procedure also contains details of the Director's powers to settle certain types of disagreements between customers and companies.
Our standards of service
We aim to provide a high-quality and efficient service. We have set out our performance standards and targets, and how to complain if you are not happy with our service in a booklet, Customer Charter: our standards of service.
We publish a wide range of publications about our work and the water and sewerage industry. If you would like more information contact our library at: