CRU Investigation of Irish Water Customer Protection requirements in 2021
The CRU has today published its findings in relation to two investigations concerning Irish Water.
The findings highlight an inconsistent and unclear approach to contact handling, which can make it difficult for customers’ complaints to be registered. The CRU also identified problems with Irish Water’s communication with customers impacted by water quality incidents.
The investigations focused on Irish Water’s contact handling and customer communications when water quality incidents occurred in Cavanhill Water Treatment Plant in Co. Louth and Gorey Water Treatment Plant in Co. Wexford last year.
The plants serve a combined total of over 52,000 people. The incidents had a significant negative impact on the public, particularly in the case of Gorey, where inadequately disinfected water entering the public water supply led to 46 people falling ill. In both investigations, the CRU found that Irish Water did not accurately categorise customer contacts as complaints.
One negative customer experience in the Gorey area was when a customer contacted Irish Water to report that their child had been ill for the past six days and their water had a green tinge. The customer asked for something to be done as soon as possible and to receive a response. However, this contact was not categorised as a complaint by Irish Water and the customer did not receive a response from Irish Water until three days later, after they contacted Irish Water via social media.
Another customer contacted Irish Water three times before a complaint was logged, reporting that her neighbour’s children had tested positive for E. coli and that her own children were feeling unwell. Only when the customer called for a fourth time, one month after her initial contact, did Irish Water raise a complaint for the customer.
The CRU also found that Irish Water did not follow up with some customers who contacted it in relation to discoloured water and were not informed of any reason for the issue they were reporting. While Irish Water aims to make update and close-out calls to such customers, this process was not adhered to in several cases viewed by the CRU. This led to some customers making multiple calls or not receiving an update on the issue.
In terms of communications provided to customers, in the case of Cavanhill, the CRU found that Irish Water failed to provide information to customers impacted by manganese exceedances which had also occurred the previous year, in 2020.
In addition, the CRU found that Irish Water failed to ensure information was made available to customers on its website in a timely manner. Irish Water became aware of the issue at Cavanhill on 8th June 2021 and a press release was issued. However, while customers are directed to Irish Water’s website to obtain information, news of this incident was only uploaded on 17th June 2021.
The CRU Commissioner for Water, Dr. Paul McGowan said: “These investigations have highlighted the need for Irish Water to review its contact handling and categorisation processes. The CRU requires Irish Water to implement satisfactory improvements to ensure customer complaints are categorised and handled appropriately. Irish Water is obliged to provide a clear and easy process for customers who wish to make a complaint and provide customers with timely and accurate information. Breaches to these obligations pose a risk to customer protection, particularly when a water quality incident takes place.”