South East Water, the drinking water supplier to the Uckfield area, has been severely criticised for the way it handled the aftermath of the Beast from the East in March.
Supplies were out off to many people in the Uckfield area, sparking outrage from residents over the lack of help the company gave. See our story at the time, which was regularly updated.
The area north east of Uckfield was particularly badly affected.
The water regulator, Ofwat, has issued a stinging report which absolves frontline staff, who “worked tirelessly” but has slammed four suppliers.
A report by Ofwat, which has carried out a review, said: “While some water companies were well prepared for the severe weather – which had been forecast – others performed badly, causing significant hardship for their customers.
“Ofwat found too many incidences of poor advance planning, inadequate communication with customers and a lack of basic support such as bottled water.
“Research by the Consumer Council for Water suggests that almost three quarters of customers who were affected did not receive alternative supplies of water.
“In some cases, customers were left to fend for themselves or depend upon the support of local bodies or volunteers.”
The regulator went on:
“Following the review, which was carried out in close cooperation with the Consumer Council for Water, Ofwat is requiring four water companies (Thames Water, Severn Trent, Southern Water and South East Water), to submit, no later than 28 September, a detailed, externally audited, action plan setting out how they how they are addressing the issues identified.
“Ofwat will take further action against any water company that provides an unsatisfactory response.”
You can read the full Ofwat report here
What South East Water has to say
South East Water has issued a detailed reply to the report.
The water company states: “Like most water companies and some other utilities, South East Water – which has 2.2 million customers in parts of Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire – was affected by an extreme freeze to thaw weather event which followed heavy snowfall during the March storm dubbed The Beast from the East.
“Ofwat’s report detailed the chain of events which led to water supply interruptions and low pressure for some customers during the exceptional conditions. It has also highlighted areas where the water industry as a whole and individual companies responded effectively as well as outlining issues which need addressing.
South East Water’s Operations Director Dr Simon Earl said: “We will carefully review the report published today by Ofwat and use this, together with our own thorough internal review which we conducted soon after the freeze thaw event, to improve our emergency plans for the future.
“We have been keen to listen to our customers about how we can improve our service if an emergency of this magnitude and nature should happen again.
“We’ve been out and about holding customer drop in sessions in our areas which were worst hit by the extreme weather and also working with our partners to see where we can co-operate further.
‘Not experienced before’
“An event of this scale in such a widespread geographic area and an unprecedented number of customer plumbing issues accounting for around 70 per cent of the water lost is something we have not experienced before and we are sorry we had not prepared for the impact this had.
“Work is under way to revise our emergency plans and we will share these with our local community to ensure we have implemented all the lessons learned.”
“Ofwat’s report praised the work of frontline staff across the water industry, many of whom were out in the cold for long hours finding and fixing the leaks and bursts caused by the fast fluctuating temperatures and which subsequently drained the underground drinking water storage reservoirs.
“It also highlighted areas for improvement, including the provision of bottled water, better communication with customers and doing more to identify vulnerable customers.”
Dr Earl continued: “Throughout the incident, our Customer Care Team delivered bottled water to all vulnerable customers listed on our Priority Services Register in the areas affected by supply interruptions and made repeat visits to check on their welfare.
“We also worked with volunteers and community groups to get alternative water supplies to isolated rural locations, including to farmers who needed water for their livestock.
Back to normal
“Using all the communication channels we could, we talked to our customers and let them know what was happening and what we were doing to get supplies back to normal.
“The Ofwat report has noted some of our engagement was good practice, but we will look to make improvements in areas where we fell short.
“Our next step is to complete the report Ofwat has asked for which will include the regulator’s recommendations and feedback we have received from our customers.
“We know it was difficult for our customers who were without water for an extended period during the extreme weather we saw and we would like to reassure everyone we are doing all we can to improve our service in the future.”
South East Water’s customers can find out more about the remaining drop in sessions and give feedback on its service here
Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory