Dealing with customers affected by
sewer flooding and the guaranteed
standards scheme – conclusions
Dealing with customers affected by sewer flooding
and the guaranteed standards scheme
Customers of water and sewerage companies are entitled to guaranteed
standards of service as laid down by the Government. When performance
falls below the levels described in the Guaranteed Standards Scheme (GSS
Regulations) the company is required to pay the customer a specified
Our consultation paper, ‘Dealing with customers affected by sewer flooding
and the guaranteed standards scheme – a review’ published in November
2005, was about the possible changes to the GSS Regulations and payments.
It mostly addressed sewer flooding, but also considered other aspects of
customer service covered by the GSS Regulations.
This paper summarises the responses to our consultation and sets out our
conclusions on changes to the Guaranteed Standards Scheme Regulations
(GSS Regulations) that we will recommend to Government.
Overall, there was broad support for our sewer flooding proposals and we will
recommend the following changes to the GSS Regulations.
To set a minimum payment level of £150 for each incident of internal
To include a new standard for customers materially affected by external
To set external sewer flooding payments at 50% of the annual sewerage
charge for each external sewer flooding incident (minimum payment of £75
and maximum payment of £500).
The current GSS Regulations allow for exceptional weather, but do not define
‘exceptional’. We sought views on possible definitions of exceptional weather
that could be incorporated into the GSS Regulations. However, there was no
clear view in the responses received. We will work with stakeholders further to
produce a guidance note to help companies’ practically apply this part of the
We also sought views on the scope of the GSS Regulations and in particular
the inclusion of telephone queries and complaints. However, following
concerns raised by respondents, the on-going investigations at three
companies and the industry-wide review of companies’ GSS Regulations
compliance systems1 we have decided not to recommend any further changes
to the GSS Regulations at this stage. As we carry out our planned review of
our approach to consumer protection, we will consider further how best to
incentivise good service to consumers.
In our consultation paper we included a set of draft guidelines for dealing with
sewer flooded customers. Overall, respondents were supportive of guidelines
and believed that they would lead to consistency with the industry. A final
version of the guidelines for practical and financial assistance is included with
MD220, ‘Review of companies’ systems, procedures and controls for compliance with the
GSS Regulations and reporting of customer service data in the June return’, 20 December
1. Dealing with customers affected by sewer flooding and the
guaranteed standards scheme 3
1.1 Structure of this paper 3
1.2 Introduction 3
1.2.1 The guaranteed standards scheme 4
2. Recommendations to Defra and Welsh Assembly Government 6
3. Summary of responses and conclusions on changes to the GSS
3.1 Overview 7
3.1.1 Our proposals 7
3.1.2 Responses 7
3.1.3 Sewer flooding 8
3.1.4 Funding/price limits 8
3.2 Telephone queries and complaints 9
3.3 Respondents’ views and our conclusions – GSS Regulations 10
4. Practical assistance and financial guidelines 20
4.1 Introduction 20
4.2 The way forward 21
4.3 Respondents’ views and our conclusions – guidelines 22
Appendix 1: Practical assistance guidelines 25
Appendix 2: Financial guidelines 30
Appendix 3: Respondents 32
1. Dealing with customers affected by sewer flooding
and the guaranteed standards scheme
1.1 Structure of this paper
This paper summarises the responses to our consultation and sets out our
conclusions on which changes to the Guaranteed Standards Scheme
Regulations (GSS Regulations) we should recommend to Government2.
In the first section we consider the proposals for changes to the GSS
Regulations which we intend to recommend to Government. The second half
of the paper considers the good practice guidelines on practical assistance
and financial guidelines to assist customers affected by sewer flooding.
This paper covers:
a brief background on the GSS Regulations, our review and subsequent
a summary of the consultation responses we received along with our
conclusions and the changes to the GSS Regulations that we will
recommend to Government;
a summary of the responses and our conclusions on the draft guidelines
we included in our consultation paper; and
details of the next steps for publication of the guidelines and for the
involvement of the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).
The Water Supply and Sewerage Services (Customer Service Standards)
Regulations 19893 (the GSS Regulations) set out minimum standards of
service individual customers can expect from their water and sewerage
company. The GSS Regulations also set out payments required when
standards are not met. These payments are in recognition of the service
failure. They are not intended to compensate customers for loss or damage
resulting from a service failure, which would be dealt with separately where
necessary. Our consultation paper, ‘Dealing with customers affected by sewer
flooding and the guaranteed standards scheme – a review’ published in
November 2005, was about the possible changes to the GSS Regulations and
For the purpose of this consultation, and unless otherwise stated references to ‘Government’
mean the Secretary of State (Defra) and the Welsh Assembly Government.
The Water Supply and Sewerage Services (Customer Service Standards) Regulations 1989
and all subsequent amendments.
payments. It mostly addressed sewer flooding, but also considered other
aspects of customer service covered by the GSS Regulations.
In January 2004 the National Audit Office (NAO) published ‘Out of sight – not
out of mind. Ofwat and the Public sewer network in England and Wales’, the
report of its investigation in to the sewerage system in England and Wales.
This report highlighted that compensation for sewer flooding incidents was
limited. A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing and report in September
20044 concluded that compensation arrangements for customers affected by
sewer flooding were inadequate. It recommended that the GSS Regulations
should be extended and that we should encourage companies to increase
voluntary compensation payments. Questions about the adequacy of the
arrangements for customers flooded by sewage were also raised by the
House of Lords in their judgement in the ‘Marcic Case’5.
Therefore, we invited consumer representatives, companies and other
interested parties to a seminar in February 2005 to discuss how best to
develop the GSS Regulations and support available to customers affected by
sewer flooding. Companies were asked about their current practices to see if
there were any common features within their policies that we could draw
upon. We set up a working group to develop specific ideas for extending the
GSS Regulations and to consider good practice guidelines for the industry.
These ideas informed the proposals we subsequently consulted on more
widely. We also invited views on minor changes to other aspects of the GSS
Regulations relating to telephone contacts.
Our conclusions will form our recommendations to Government. The
Secretary of State and the Welsh Assembly Government will then consider
whether to implement our recommendations by amending the Regulations,
which are subject to approval by Parliament.
1.2.1 The guaranteed standards scheme
Customers of water and sewerage companies are entitled to guaranteed
standards of service as laid down by the Government. The scheme is a legal
requirement for companies set out in Regulations, which apply to water and
sewerage companies in both England and Wales with some minor variations.
However, in practice the companies operating in Wales have voluntarily
Treasury Minutes on the Twenty-ninth and Thirtieth reports from the Committee of Public
Accounts 2003-04. 30th report: ‘Out of sight – not out of mind. Ofwat and the public sewer
network in England and Wales’, 2004.
Marcic (Respondent) v Thames Water Utilities Limited (Appellant)  UKHL 66.
adopted the same standards as apply in England. We monitor the scheme
and recommend changes to the Government.
The role of the GSS Regulations is not to compensate customers for any
damage or loss incurred as a result of a company failing to maintain minimum
standards. The GSS Regulations is a way for companies to acknowledge to
their customers that levels of service have dropped below a certain point.
When performance falls below the levels described in the GSS Regulations
the company is required to make a specified payment to the customer.
The current GSS Regulations cover eight different areas of service. These
making and keeping appointments;
responding to written account queries and complaints;
notice of planned interruptions;
overruns of planned interruptions;
low pressure incidents; and
sewer flooding incidents.
Payment levels6 are set out in the GSS Regulations and in certain cases7
where the stated payment is not made within ten working days the customer
can claim an additional penalty payment of £10 for domestic premises and
£50 in all other cases.
Many companies also have voluntary policies that enhance the statutory
requirements or set out circumstances when a customer will be entitled to a
payment that the GSS Regulations does not cover. Some companies make
higher payments for the same service areas covered by the GSS Regulations.
Alternatively, the qualification criteria can be more relaxed. A company’s
customer charter can set out its own levels of service and set the level of
payment a customer can expect if the performance falls below these levels.
Unlike the enhanced GSS, customer charters are not based on the GSS
Regulations at all.
The development of enhancements to the GSS Regulations or distinctive
customer charters allows each water company to tailor its services to meet the
GSS Regulations 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7 £20. GSS Regulations 7A £25. GSS Regulation 7B a sum
equal to annual sewerage charges or £1000.
GSS Regulations 3. 4, 5 and 7A. GSS Regulations 6 Notice of interruption of supply and
GSS Regulations 7B Flooding from sewers if payment is not made within 20 working days a
customer can claim an additional penalty payment of £20 for domestic premises and £50 in all
needs of its customers. It is good for companies to have this flexibility as their
customers may have different concerns in different water company areas.
Our overall performance assessment (OPA) recognises where companies go
beyond the basic requirements of the GSS Regulations.
2. Recommendations to Defra and the Welsh
Section 3.3 sets out our conclusions on the proposals on which we consulted.
These will form our recommendations to Government. The Secretary of State
and the Welsh Assembly Government will then consider amending the
Regulations, which are subject to approval by Parliament under the negative
resolution procedure. This process means that the Regulations laid before
Parliament will be accepted unless there is active opposition to them. We
understand that, at the same time, Defra is also likely to consolidate the
various existing Regulations into one updated, comprehensive order.
Taking account of this process, we expect that it will be possible for any new
provisions to take effect from October 2007.
In the meantime, we encourage those companies whose charters do not
already include similar provisions, to consider making these changes
3. Summary of responses and conclusions on
changes to GSS Regulations
3.1.1 Our proposals
On sewer flooding we proposed to:
set minimum payment levels for sewer flooding;
extend the scheme to cover external sewer flooding; and
establish separate guidelines covering other practical and financial
assistance for customers affected by sewer flooding.
We also asked for views on three options for dealing with customers who
suffered sewer flooding as a result of exceptional weather (that is, weather
beyond that which a sewer might normally be expected to cope with, such as
an exceptional storm).
On other aspects of the GSS Regulations we proposed to:
extend the GSS Regulations to cover complaints or queries made by
telephone as well as those in writing; and
consolidate the GSS Regulations to aid understanding.
We received 23 responses to the consultation. Respondents included:
the Association of British Insurers; and
water and sewerage companies.
All full list of respondents can be found in appendix 3.
Overall, respondents agreed that the existing GSS Regulations cover the
issues that are most important to customers and that it is important to extend
the GSS Regulations for sewer flooding.
CCWater, which represents the interests of water and sewerage customers in
England and Wales, provided a detailed response to our consultation. Overall,
they agreed that the provision for sewer flooding in the GSS Regulations
should be extended. They also offered views on some other areas where in
their experience some customers have concerns and where further protection
might be offered to customers. These are discussed at the end of this section.
3.1.3 Sewer flooding
Nearly £1 billion is included in price limits to deal with sewer flooding. It was
clear from the responses we received that the industry is working hard to
deliver those improvements to reduce sewer flooding. Companies recognise
that sewer flooding is distressing and all of them already offer assistance in
some way, which goes beyond what the GSS Regulations requires. For
example, companies may make payments for external sewer flooding
incidents or remove the maximum payment for domestic customers.
Companies also recognise that customers need practical help and most offer
free assistance, such as removing debris and disinfecting affected areas.
Overall, there was broad support for our sewer flooding proposals. The
proposals for sewer flooding were considered to improve consistency across
the industry and offer greater clarity for customers on their entitlement under
GSS Regulations. Respondents felt that the sewer flooding proposals were a
logical development of the GSS Regulations, which offer an
acknowledgement of a service failure rather than providing compensation for
any damage incurred. Chapter 4 sets out the responses and our conclusions
on specific changes to the GSS Regulations provisions for sewer flooding.
Two companies noted that the current timescale requirement of 20 working
days for payments of GSS for sewer flooding incidents was not always
practical. This is because it does not always allow companies time to fully
investigate the cause of the sewer flooding and therefore whether payment
was due. We do not agree with this. The current GSS Regulations state that a
GSS payment for internal sewer flooding should be made within 20 working
days. In the majority of cases, companies are able to meet this timescale or
will make the payment whilst investigations are proceeding. Therefore, we do
not propose to change this.
3.1.4 Funding/price limits
One respondent raised concerns about the potential extra costs associated
with any new GSS Regulations standards. We acknowledge that for
companies who do not currently offer any financial assistance for external
sewer flooding, there may be an increase in operating costs. However,
assuming revised Regulations are in place before April 2008, any increase in
associated costs would be seen in 2008-09 operating costs, which will be
reflected in our next price review in 2009.
3.2 Telephone queries and complaints
There was less support from respondents for the proposals to extend GSS
Regulations to include handling telephone queries and complaints, as well as
those made in writing, which are already covered. The main concerns raised
by respondents were:
the difficulty in recognising GSS Regulations events (particularly for
complaints due to the subjective nature of these); and
the ability of company systems to recognise and make payments and to
report and audit these to the standard required for a statutory obligation.
Although some respondents believed that adding telephone queries and
complaints to the GSS Regulations was a logical step, and some companies
already have systems in place that could do this, there was consensus
amongst respondents that the consistency of recording telephone complaints
and queries needs to be improved.
Our ongoing work on the investigations8 underway at three companies and
the analysis we undertook at the June return 2006 have led us to commission
an industry-wide review of companies’ GSS Regulations compliance
systems9. We also accept that telephone contacts are, by their nature, more
difficult to record. CCWater agreed that extending the GSS Regulations to
cover responses to account queries and complaints received by telephone
was a logical extension to the current standards. However, it also had
concerns about the need to record telephone complaints accurately and
consistently across the industry. We have therefore decided not to
recommend extending the GSS Regulations to include telephone queries and
complaints at this stage. As we review our approach to consumer protection,
we will consider how best to incentivise good service in this area.10
We have published our intention to impose financial penalties for failing to meet standards
laid down in the GSS Regulations on Severn Trent Water, Southern Water and Thames
MD220, ‘Review of companies’ systems, procedures and controls for compliance with the
GSS Regulations and reporting of customer service data in the June return’, 20 December
‘Ofwat forward programme 2007-08 to 2009-10: draft for consultation’, 8 December 2006.
Final forward programme due for publication in early April 2007.
3.3 Respondents’ views and our conclusions – GSS
Do you agree that the provision for sewer flooding in the GSS
Regulations should be extended?
Respondents agreed that the existing GSS Regulations provision for sewer
flooding should be extended. Most companies already use their customer
charters to extend the service they offer to customers affected by sewer
flooding beyond that required by the GSS Regulations. Most respondents
considered that the proposals we made were based on common industry
practice and that it would be better to include these within the statutory
scheme to allow for greater clarity and uniformity for customers across the
country. Respondents also recognised that customer charters allowed
companies to retain some flexibility to tailor any additional help to the needs of
their individual customer base.
We will proceed as proposed and recommend that Government extend the
provision of payments for sewer flooding in the GSS Regulations based on the
responses to the following questions. We still expect companies to make any
other specific provisions or enhancements clear to their customers in their
enhanced GSS or customer charter schemes.
Do you agree that a minimum payment level should be set for sewer
The majority of respondents agreed that there should be a fixed minimum
payment level for all customers for sewer flooding. Respondents believed that
a minimum payment would particularly benefit customers with low sewerage
bills, as sewer flooding was distressing regardless of the amount a customer
pays in sewerage charges. A GSS payment addresses the service failure
experienced by customers when sewer flooding occurs. Respondents also
believed that a minimum payment would make sure that customers were
treated fairly. One respondent believed that a review period for the minimum
payment should be established.
We will proceed as proposed and recommend that Government set a
minimum payment level for each sewer flooding event available to all
customers in the GSS Regulations. This will lead to more consistency and
more transparency for customers. It will ensure that a customer receives at
least a certain amount regardless of whether they have a low sewerage
charge. As a GSS payment is to acknowledge a service failure experienced
by customers affected by sewer flooding, a minimum payment will make sure
that customers with low sewerage charges are also treated fairly. We do not
believe that a fixed payment for sewer flooding would be appropriate. In some
cases, this would mean that some customers would receive a smaller
payment than they currently do with a refund of their annual sewerage charge.
Therefore, for each incident of internal sewer flooding customers will receive
either the minimum payment or a payment equal to their annual sewerage
charge, whichever is the greater.
If so, do you think £150 is an appropriate payment level for each incident
of internal sewer flooding?
The majority of respondents agreed that £150 was an appropriate payment
level for each incident of internal sewer flooding. A number of companies
already set a minimum payment under their customer charter scheme and
thought that setting the amount at £150 would benefit customers.
One respondent commented that the minimum should be £200 to reflect the
trauma and wider tangible impacts of having your home flooded. This is the
same as in Defra’s guidance for the flood and coastal defence project
appraisal. However, this project relates to fluvial flooding only and states that
the research results concluded that the value of the health impacts of this sort
of flooding is of the order of £200 each year for every household affected.
Health impacts include physical and psychological effect of the flooding. The
role of the GSS Regulations is not to compensate customers for any damage
or loss incurred as a result of a company failing to maintain minimum
standards. The GSS Regulations is a way for companies to acknowledge to
their customers that levels of service have dropped below a certain point.
We will proceed as proposed by recommending Government set a minimum
payment level of £150 for each incident of internal sewer flooding in the GSS
Regulations. This will allow companies to have a set minimum payment that
would not change each year, whilst allowing protection for customers who pay
low sewerage charges. Average sewerage bills for 2007-08 range from £138
to £290, with an industry average of £162. We therefore believe that a
minimum payment of £150 is fair and reasonably reflects the average bill.
Customers will receive a payment of either £150 or an amount equal to their
annual sewerage charge, whichever is the greater each time they suffer an
incident of internal sewer flooding. We review the standards in the GSS
Regulations periodically to make sure that they still cover the aspects of
service that are important to customers, and that the payment levels are still
relevant. We will continue to do this.
Do you agree that the current maximum payment of £1,000 (for each
internal incident) should be retained for both domestic and commercial
Most respondents agreed that the current maximum payment of £1,000 (for
each incident of internal sewer flooding) should be retained for both domestic
and commercial customers. One company noted that it already removes the
maximum for domestic customers as part of its customer charter, but strongly
agreed that it should be kept for commercial customers. The company
believed that it is very rare for domestic customers to have sewerage charges
of £1,000, meaning that the cost implications would be minimal. Another
company said that it removed the limit for domestic customers and set a
maximum limit of £1,500 for commercial customers within its customer charter
scheme. One respondent believed that the current maximum was already
substantial and any increase would only benefit commercial customers.
We will proceed as proposed and recommend that Government retain the
£1,000 maximum payment level for all domestic and commercial customers
for each internal sewer flooding incident in the GSS Regulations. This will
have very little impact on domestic customers, as respondents believed that it
is rare for domestic customers to have sewerage charges of more than
£1,000. We recognise that the most common payment to commercial
customers is £1,000. However, we believe that the maximum of £1,000 is high
enough to recognise the service failure.
Retaining the maximum payment level also protects companies from making
large refunds to commercial customers for small incidents, which have not
affected the customer materially. Companies can extend their provisions for
customers affected by sewer flooding further in their enhanced GSS and
customer charter schemes if they feel this is appropriate for their customers.
Do you agree that payments for external sewer flooding should be
included in the GSS Regulations?
The majority of respondents agreed that payments for external sewer flooding
should be added to the GSS Regulations. Some respondents considered that
this would be a logical progression as some companies already have polices
in place to help customers suffering from external sewer flooding, including
making payments for these incidents. There are around five times as many
external sewer flooding incidents as internal ones.
One respondent suggested that it was difficult to assess the financial
implications of including these payments into the GSS Regulations. This is
because the understanding of these incidents is relatively underdeveloped
compared to the understanding of internal sewer flooding. Companies keep
records of both internal and external sewer flooding incidents. However, since
priority is given to clearing up internal incidents the evidence of external sewer
flooding may be reduced, or even have disappeared, by the time company
staff visit externally sewer flooded locations.
We will proceed as proposed and recommend that Government include
external sewer flooding incidents in the GSS Regulations. This would cover
areas such as non-linked garages and gardens. Extending the GSS
Regulations to cover external sewer flooding incidents will recognise that this
type of sewer flooding can also affect customers materially. We will
recommend the inclusion of external sewer flooding incidents in the GSS
Regulations as set out in the conclusions to the following questions.
All companies record and report external sewer flooding incidents that they
are aware of. Some companies already make payments for external sewer
flooding incidents, while all companies offer some form of assistance to this
group of customers. We do not believe that the financial implications for
companies will be difficult to assess.
Where a customer has been affected by internal and external sewer flooding,
the company will only be obliged to make the required GSS payment for
internal sewer flooding.
Do you agree that a payment equal to 50% of the annual sewerage
charge for each external flooding incident (with a minimum payment of
£75 and a maximum payment of £500) is reasonable? Do you also agree
that a customer should claim payments, rather than receiving them
automatically, and should demonstrate they had been ‘materially
Claims for GSS payments
The working group that met to discuss the most appropriate extensions to the
GSS Regulations raised concerns over the payments companies would have
to make for external sewer flooding. Therefore, we proposed to include two
clauses so that these concerns were addressed. The concerns of the working
group were that:
companies would have a duty to make GSS payments for incidents that
they could not reasonably be aware of; and
that the number of potential payments for small incidents would place an
undue financial burden on companies. This would eventually be passed on
to customers through price increases.
The majority of respondents believed that customers should claim GSS
payments for external sewer flooding incidents and they should also
demonstrate that they have been ‘materially affected’ by the incident to be
entitled to a payment.
Although there were some specific comments about these two clauses, on
balance respondents believed that inclusion would benefit both companies
and customers both in the short and longer term.
Some respondents asked that we define the term ‘materially affected’. We
don’t intend to do this in the GSS Regulations as it would be difficult to be
sure that a definition covered all types of incident and all potential levels of
severity (such as depth of flooding, area of flooding or location of flooding). As
a guide we would expect companies to take into account issues that are of
concern to customers and that insurance may not cover (such as restricted
access to the property or restricted use of garden). Companies should use
their discretion and examine any cases that are unclear on an individual basis.
We will proceed as proposed and recommend to Government that in order to
receive a payment for an external sewer flooding incident, customers must
make a claim demonstrating that the incident has ‘materially affected’ them.
This will ensure that customers receive a payment where necessary, whilst
protecting companies and customers as a whole, from making unnecessary
payments. We will monitor how companies interpret and apply ‘materially
affected’ to see if guidance is necessary.
In most cases, respondents agreed that a payment equal to 50% of the
annual sewerage charge would be appropriate for external sewer flooding.
Some companies currently make payments for external sewer flooding. These
range from a refund of 25% of annual sewerage charges to a refund of 50% of
annual sewerage charges. Of those respondents that currently make GSS
payments for external sewer flooding, most agreed with increasing the
payment level to 50% of annual sewerage charges (with a minimum payment
of £75 and a maximum payment of £500). Individual respondents also
suggested other options, for example:
that payments should increase to reflect repeat events;
that there should be the provision to increase payments to match those
made for internal sewer flooding incidents where necessary; and
that there should be no minimum to allow companies the flexibility to make
payments reflective of the severity of the incident.
We will proceed as proposed and recommend that Government set the
payment level for external sewer flooding at a payment equal to 50% of the
annual sewerage charges for each external sewer flooding incident (with a
minimum payment of £75 and a maximum payment of £500) in the GSS
Regulations. Most respondents agreed with our proposal and felt that the level
of payment was fair. Customers will be able to establish easily what payment
they are entitled to if they experience an external sewer flooding incident. The
payment level acknowledges the lesser impact of external sewer flooding
compared with internal sewer flooding, but still recognises the service failure.
Although we received some specific ideas, we think that including too much
detail in the GSS Regulations will over-complicate the scheme and make it
both inaccessible to customers and difficult for companies to administer. The
GSS Regulations are not intended to restrict companies’ policies. Companies
can extend their provisions for customers affected by external sewer flooding
further in their enhanced GSS and customer charter schemes if they wish to.
The GSS Regulations are intended to provide a minimum performance
What are your views on the three options for dealing with exceptional
Option 1 – Removing the exceptional weather clause entirely
There was very little support for this option. There was concern that if the
clause was removed this may lead to a number of payments for incidents
beyond the control of the company (such as exceptional storms that inundate
all systems leading to sewer flooding). Only a very small number of
companies currently make payments regardless of the weather conditions that
have caused the sewer flooding.
Option 2 – Retaining the ‘exceptional weather’ clause
The majority of respondents agreed that this is the best of the three options
we presented. However, there were no ideas from respondents that would
allow us to easily define the clause in a way that would be practical but that
would allow companies to respond to their customers’ needs. Respondents
highlighted the difficulties facing companies and customers in applying this
clause (such as gaining reliable rainfall data in a timely fashion, climate
changes and regional weather differences).
Each year, we collect information on internal and external sewer flooding
incidents caused by overloaded sewers attributed to severe weather. Some
respondents said that they thought that the definitions that each company
uses in preparing this data should also be used in the GSS Regulations.
Sewer networks are designed to reflect local weather patterns. The impact of
a storm of a certain intensity will be different in different areas. We do not
believe that one single criteria would adequately cover the circumstances in
the different regions. The GSS Regulations are in place to make sure that
companies consider the needs of its customer as a priority. The current
wording in the GSS Regulations should be retained to allow each company
sufficient flexibility to meet its customers’ expectations.
Currently, company policies on excluding exceptional weather events vary
from the strict application of the clause preventing any form of payment, to
making payments regardless of the weather conditions leading to the incident.
From information we gathered before our consultation, we know that half of
the companies apply the exceptional weather exclusion in some way, whilst
the others stated that they did not apply the exclusion but reserved the right to
do so. One reason that respondents gave for making payments for all
incidents attributed to exceptional weather is that the timescale for receiving
rainfall data would lead to the company making late payments. It was also
noted that accurate rainfall data was difficult to collect in some parts of the
We recognise the practical considerations on companies by not including a
definition of exceptional weather within the GSS Regulations. We will work
with the industry to produce and issue a guidance note for companies to use
in deciding on whether a GSS payment is appropriate.
Option 3 – Ofgem approach
Ofgem categorises severe weather events in terms of the number of
customers affected rather than by the severity of the storm. The majority of
respondents believed that this was not an appropriate method for the water
industry, because, for example:
of the differences in population in urban and rural areas;
of difficulties in defining the number of customers that would be affected;
this option would be difficult for customers to understand.
We have decided to retain the exceptional weather clause as it stands in the
current GSS Regulations. This gives companies a level of protection from
having to make payments for incidents caused by events where the severity of
the weather led to the system becoming inundated such that it would be
unreasonable to expect the system to cope. For example, where surrounding
land and roads are flooded as well as properties and customers can recognise
that this is not solely the responsibility of the company. Companies should
also protect the needs of their customers. From a customer service
perspective we would expect the company to consider the needs of its
customers as a priority. We will work with stakeholders to produce a guidance
note to help companies practically apply this part of the GSS Regulations.
Do you agree that, apart from proposals outlined above, the GSS
Regulations covers the aspects of service that are important to
customers and offers adequate recognition of service failure in these
The majority of respondents agreed that the GSS Regulations cover the
aspects of service that are important to customers. The majority agreed that,
excluding the proposals in this paper, there are no further areas that needed
to be extended or included. Some respondents believed that any areas that
were found to be important for particular customers could be addressed in
company customer charters. A number of respondents commented that the
current arrangements (GSS Regulations, enhanced GSS and customer
charters) all work well and provide companies with the flexibility they need to
tailor approaches for companies’ own customer base.
CCWater suggested a number of areas where the GSS Regulations could be
extended to cover other aspects of service important to customers. We
respond to each of these below.
CCWater suggestion Our response
Payment levels set by the GSS We have benchmarked the GSS
Regulations should be increased payment levels for the water sector
because bills have increased or are with the energy sectors where similar
increasing. legislation applies. The water sector
payment levels are similar to those for
the energy sector and in most cases
energy bills are higher and have
increased by more than water bills.
Levels for business customers should The purpose of the GSS payment is
be much higher in recognition of not to compensate for loss of
disruption to business. business, but to acknowledge the
service failure. Loss of business may
be covered by insurance policies.
There should be a timescale for Our understanding is that the majority
setting up appointments. of appointments are made when
customers telephone the company,
so it is not clear how such a standard
would benefit customers.
The standard for replying to written We would not want to risk the quality
complaints should be reduced from of responses to written complaints by
ten days to five days. shortening the timescale, especially
as many of these require information
to be collected from different parts of
Customers should be notified 24 Short-term interruptions are not as
hours in advance of all planned disruptive to customers as longer
interruptions (not just those lasting term interruptions. The standard
more than four hours). currently allows companies flexibility
to fit smaller maintenance work in
around larger jobs, which is more
That the low pressure standard The DG2 indicator measures
should be aligned with the DG2 properties at risk of receiving low
indicator reference level. pressure. Companies are allowed to
exclude certain periods of low
pressure on a yearly basis. The GSS
Regulations provide for a more
immediate recognition of service
failure as they are based on a
month’s assessment. Therefore, if we
were to align the GSS standard with
the DG2 pressure indicator customers
could have to wait for 12 months
before receiving a payment, which we
do not consider appropriate.
Delays in setting up accounts at new It is in the company’s interest to set
properties/closing accounts on up accounts and close accounts as
moving house. soon as possible for revenue
Incorrect meter readings. It is in the company’s interest to bill
on correct meter readings for revenue
Boil water notices. We have consulted on this in the
past, and the conclusions were that
the provision of water that is fit to
drink should not be prejudiced by
Discoloured water. Discoloured water is often the result
of essential maintenance. We would
not want companies to delay such
Restricted access to property. We agree that it can be inconvenient
to customers when access is
restricted. However, setting the terms
for this in legislation would be difficult
as site situations vary considerably.
We would prefer to encourage
companies to consider claims on a
Installing meters within 30 days. It is in the company interest to install
Current legal minimum is 90 days. meters in a timely manner to reduce
customer contact or complaints.
However, as the range of metering is
variable across the country setting a
shorter standard might result in
inefficient practices, which are not in
the companies’ or customers’ interest.
Some companies set their own
internal standards, which are covered
in their customer charters. We are
reviewing company charter payments
We believe that the current system is flexible enough to allow companies to
tailor their responses to individual customers under the GSS Regulations,
enhanced GSS and customer charters and therefore we will not be making
any recommendations to Government. Company policies in addition to this
are monitored through our OPA and this maintains the incentive to companies
to continue to provide certain levels of service to meet the needs of their
However, as we have set out in our ’ Ofwat forward programme 2007-08 to
2009-10: draft for consultation’, we are considering our approach for
promoting and recognising the improvements that give consumer value as
well as consideration of formal company performance standards to secure
specific aspects of service. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor compliance
with the existing GSS Regulations through the June returns and the review of
GSS compliance triggered by MD220.
MD220, ‘Review of companies’ system, procedures and controls for compliance with the
GSS Regulations and reporting of customer service data in the June return’. 20 December
4. Responses and conclusions on guidelines for
practical and financial assistance to customers
affected by sewer flooding
In our consultation paper we included a set of draft guidelines which set out
our initial thoughts on what we considered to be the main issues for
customers who have been affected by sewer flooding. We asked respondents
for comments on all of the guidelines.
Following the seminar in February 2005, where attendees agreed that all
companies already help their customers that have been affected by sewer
flooding more than they are required to by the GSS Regulations, it was
agreed that we should produce a set of guidelines for dealing with sewer
flooded customers. The guidelines would then allow for greater uniformity in
practice across the industry, whilst still allowing companies to be flexible
enough to meet their own customers’ expectations.
We already produce guidelines for dealing with customers in debt12 and
providing services for disabled or elderly customers13. These have been in
place for a number of years and are reviewed periodically to make sure that
they are still relevant to these customers. The guidelines have worked well
within the industry. We hope that the guidelines for dealing with customers
affected by sewer flooding will be a beneficial addition to the existing
guidelines we issue.
The guidelines attempt to draw a reasonable balance between allowing
companies sufficient flexibility to devise and manage their own policies, whilst
setting out what we believe to be a reasonable level of protection for
We drafted the guidelines in two parts. The first dealt with the practical
assistance a company should aim to offer customers to help them deal with a
sewer flooding incident. These were in chronological order to set out what a
customer should be able to expect from their company at each stage of an
incident. The second part of the guidelines covered the GSS payments a
company must make and payments they may make in addition to those
required by GSS Regulations. This section of the guidelines sets out the
principles that the majority of companies already apply.
‘Dealing with customers in debt: guidelines’, October 2002.
‘Services for disabled or elderly customers’, March 2002.
Respondents provided a number of detailed comments on the practical
assistance and financial guidelines. Details of these comments are shown in
4.2 The way forward
In our consultation paper we stated that we expected to explore ways for
CCWater to be involved in assessing companies’ handling of customers
affected by sewer flooding. This could include:
how companies meet the immediate, medium and longer-term needs and
expectations of their customers;
an assessment of how well a company applies its own policies; and
how these relate to the standard guidelines.
This would help all parties to see how the guidelines have impacted on
customers. It could also help companies to monitor their staff training needs.
CCWater has said that it would welcome the opportunity to become involved
We envisage that assessment of the sewer flooding guidelines would be
similar to the audits CCWater carries out on a yearly basis on the application
of the debt guidelines.
There are a number of reasons why CCWater audits cases, such as providing
a measure of the quality of delivery of service to customers:
to highlight any problems or areas of concern;
to check that companies’ activities match their stated policies and
to check practice in areas where no other qualitative assessment is
CCWater reviews a set number of debt cases each year using a questionnaire
based on the principles stated in the debt guidelines. Cases are marked either
‘good’, ‘satisfactory’ or ‘needs improvement’. The auditing guidelines note that
assessments should be made against the debt guidelines and company
There is still further work to be done with CCWater in order to take the sewer
flooding assessments forward. We will keep companies informed of this work.
4.3 Respondents’ views and our conclusions – guidelines
In this section, we discuss the respondents’ comments on the draft guidelines
included in our consultation paper. This section covers both responses to the
questions we asked and more specific comments on the guidelines.
Do you agree that a set of guidelines should be developed to encourage
more uniformity and transparency in dealing with sewer flooded
The majority of respondents agreed that a set of guidelines should be
developed for the industry. Respondents believed that the guidelines would
lead to consistency across the industry, which will benefit customers. Whilst
the guidelines will encourage uniformity, they will still allow companies the
flexibility to tailor their responses to individual or groups of customers where
We will continue as proposed and publish a set of guidelines for good practice
on how companies should deal with customers affected by sewer flooding.
These will be guidelines only and are not prescriptive measures for
companies to follow rigidly. Companies can be flexible and take into account
their customers’ needs. Currently, the financial guidelines only covered the
existing GSS Regulations as we cannot assume that the Secretary of State
will agree our recommendations. We will update these once the GSS statutory
instrument has been amended in October 2007.
If you agree that some guidelines would be helpful, please comment on
the draft guidelines included in the consultation, which cover both
practical and financial assistance.
Respondents provided a number of detailed comments on the draft practical
assistance and financial guidelines provided in our consultation paper.
Overall, respondents believed that the guidelines were reasonable and would
be a welcome addition to existing customer literature.
Comments on specific aspects of the draft guidelines
One respondent believed that a priority telephone line for customers affected
by sewer flooding would be difficult to resource and open to abuse from
callers. We believe that unfortunately all contact lines (especially those with
freephone numbers) are open to abuse by callers. There will always be an
element of this. Industry good practice is that a dedicated telephone line is
operated for sewer flooded customers. However, we recognise that not all
companies would want or be in a position to do this for business reasons and
therefore a general emergency line is acceptable where staff are aware of
sewer flooding issues to be able to deal with the customers’ calls effectively.
The purpose of the guidelines is to allow for greater uniformity in practice
across the industry whilst still being flexible.
Two respondents questioned whether informing customers of payments due
under the GSS Regulations or company compensation schemes when a
customer calls initially to report a sewer flooding incident was the correct
procedure to use. They believed that as the cause of the sewer flooding would
not have been established at this stage, the company would not know if the
customer was entitled to a GSS payment. We believe that from a customer
service perspective, it would be helpful for staff to inform the customer early
on in the process of anything the customer could be entitled to, as this may
alert the customer to claim at a later stage.
One respondent believed that providing a named contact is a backward step
in customer service as in practice any named contact would need to be an
office-based person – not the one who would visit the customer. The
respondent suggested that company staff should be trained to deal with all
aspects of business and be able to help a number of customers with different
issues. From a customer service perspective, we think that it is good practice
if a member of staff with expertise in this area deals with the customer. As
sewer flooding could be distressing for the customer, someone who answers
their call and is able to give them the information they need would help put the
customer at ease. A named contact could also help the customer feel they are
being taken seriously and will not have to go through the whole process again
if they have any further queries or problems. We understand that a single
named person will not be available 24 hours a day. However, companies
could offer customers two named contacts and should make it clear to
customers the hours that named contacts are available, and what the
customer should do if they need to talk to someone outside these hours.
One respondent believed that it is unrealistic to expect call centre staff – who
will generally take the call from a customer reporting a sewer flooding incident
– to explain the interaction between water companies and insurers other than
to advise the customer to contact the insurer. Anything beyond this could
cause confusion. The guidelines should recognise that there may be a limit on
what advice they can expect staff to give, and if they are not careful this could
raise customer expectations and lead to further complaints. We acknowledge
that company staff may not have very detailed knowledge regarding the
relationship between water and sewerage companies and insurance
companies. We do not accept that it is unreasonable for company staff to be
able to explain the general relationship between the two and the next steps
that each will take. As no other respondents raised this, we do not propose to
change this guideline. Companies should bear in mind that these are
guidelines for good practice and to allow flexibility. If a practice stated in these
guidelines is not appropriate for a company they can be flexible in the
practices they use.
One respondent stated that they believed that clean up should be handled by
the insurance company rather than the water and sewerage company. If
companies do not offer clean-up assistance or charge for this service we
would expect them to inform the customer of this in the initial contact.
One respondent raised the issue of company responsibility in relation to
visiting affected customers and providing clean-up assistance, especially if
floorboards have to be disturbed or there are problems with the building
structure, for example. We do not propose to be too prescriptive in stating
what should be a company responsibility. This is not for us to establish. These
are guidelines for good practice and not conditions for companies to adhere
to. However, where companies disturb floorboards, for example, it would be
good practice for them to assist the customer in the reinstatement of these.
A number of respondents commented on point 2 of the financial guidelines
and the provision of compensation arrangements. Considering all claims for
compensation would be difficult to quantify and guidance on how this could be
done would be welcomed. It was also expressed that all claims for
compensation were directed to the insurance companies, as household
policies would cover this type of claim, whereas the company makes no
provision for this. Another respondent stated that unless water companies are
negligent, they are not responsible for such claims for compensation.
However, they do consider each claim on merit and if appropriate offer
voluntary payments. Such payments are outside the GSS Regulations and are
not intended as compensation. One respondent suggested the guidelines
should contain a stronger provision for compensation for material damage.
We have taken into account respondents’ comments and the final version of
the guidelines is included in this document (appendix 1: practical assistance
guidelines; and appendix 2: financial guidelines). We believe that these
guidelines should be for the industry to use as a good practice benchmark and
still allow flexibility for companies to tailor responses for individual customers.
We will work with CCWater to review how these guidelines are working in
practice and how companies are applying them.
Appendix 1: Practical assistance guidelines
Dealing with customers who have been affected by sewer
flooding – practical assistance
1. Customers should be able to contact their sewerage company easily
when a sewer flooding incident occurs.
When a customer reports a sewer flooding incident, they expect the company
to understand the reason for their call immediately, and for the staff at the
company to deal with them politely and quickly. Customers should be able to
find the relevant telephone number on the company’s literature easily.
1.1 Clearly advertised telephone line for customers who have been
affected by sewer flooding and/or those known to be at risk of flooding.
Some companies have a dedicated telephone number for customers to call if
they have been flooded with sewage. This ensures that the staff responding to
the call have been specially trained to deal with such customers and can deal
with the call effectively. Companies should publish the relevant telephone
number on company literature and on their website to allow customers to
easily find it when needed.
As good practice, a dedicated telephone line is ideal. A general emergency
line is acceptable, and staff should be aware of sewer flooding issues to be
able to deal with the customer’s call effectively.
At times when widespread flooding occurs (such as, in large parts of the
company area rather than localised flooding), the company should make
every effort to answer calls quickly and efficiently. If there are a number of
incidents, for example during severe weather, customers may have difficulty in
contacting the company. In such circumstances, companies should make
every effort to provide the necessary resources to answer customer calls.
Companies may also find it helpful to employ a message manager system to
provide the initial reassurance to customer that the company is aware of the
incident(s), is taking action to deal with the problem, and will answer their call
as quickly as possible,
1.2 Staff specifically trained to deal with customers who have been flooded.
Staff who deal with customers who have been flooded should receive
adequate training to allow them to handle the calls. Staff should understand
and be able to communicate company policies to inform customers:
how quickly they can expect a visit from a company representative or
contractor. The company needs to make it clear to customers that visits
during periods of widespread sewer flooding (such as, in large parts of the
company area rather than localised flooding), may be difficult or take
longer than normal. Companies may prioritise internal sewer flooding
incidents before external sewer flooding. However, companies should
make every effort to provide the necessary resources to visit customer
properties within normal company timescales;
what the representative will do to arrange the clean-up of the affected
what steps the company will take next, in particular informing customers to
contact their insurance companies (see section 1.3).
If the initial call from the customer was on a general telephone number, the
current good practice is for that customer to then be given a named contact
and a direct telephone number for them. This allows the customer to have a
contact for any queries or further problems they may have. At the least,
companies should keep in regular contact with the customer until the sewer
flooding has been cleared.
1.3 Customers can expect their company to provide adequate advice about
When a customer calls to report a sewer flooding incident, staff should be in a
position to offer advice about contacting insurers. They should be able to:
advise customers to contact their insurers as soon as possible;
explain the general interaction between the water company and the
insurance company, and the general process including a timeframe if
if the customer is uninsured, staff should be trained on company policy for
dealing with this and explain that to the customer.
2. Customers should expect their sewerage company to visit their
property promptly when a sewer flooding incident occurs.
All companies will visit customers who have been affected by sewer flooding.
This may not always be a company representative, as some companies use
contractors to clean up after a sewer flooding incident. The company needs to
make it clear to customers that visits during periods of widespread sewer
flooding (such as, in large parts of the company area rather than localised
flooding), may be difficult or take longer than normal. Companies may
prioritise internal sewer flooding incidents before external sewer flooding.
However, companies should make every effort to provide the necessary
resources to visit customer properties within normal company timescales;
2.1 The company should arrange a convenient time with the customer for
its initial visit.
2.2 The visit should occur within a given timescale. The customer will have
been informed of this when they initially called to report the incident.
Current best practice is to visit a customer within two hours, but this
may differ where there has been widespread sewer flooding.
2.3 The company representative should give the customer details of what
can be done to help them to clean up. Customers should be given the
option to clean up themselves if they would prefer to do so.
2.4 The company should then provide any clean-up assistance necessary
depending on the nature of the incident, the involvement of insurers
and the customer’s wishes for both internal and external incidents. This
pumping out sewage from basements or under floor areas;
hosing down the affected area;
cleaning floors and contaminated areas with disinfectant; or
providing advice to the customer on what they should do if they
choose to clean up themselves.
If further investigation is needed, the company should provide details of what
this will involve, such as a survey of the sewer or a questionnaire for the
customer to complete.
2.5 At the time of visit the company representative should:
provide a direct telephone number for staff dealing with the
confirm what investigations will be made into the cause;
provide the customer with information about who will help with the
clean up or offer advice;
advise if the company is going to use a contractor and clearly
explain their role; and
inform the customer about GSS payment procedures.
2.6 If it is still unclear who is responsible for the sewer flooding incident, the
company should still visit in order to confirm responsibility and follow up
3. Companies should provide their customers with any necessary
information on how to deal with their property and the associated health
risks during and after clean up.
When the clean-up process is under way, the company should keep the
customer informed about how long it will take and provide advice about when
the area affected is safe to use again.
3.1 The company should provide the customer with relevant and up-to-date
literature about how the affected area should be treated and when the
customer can reuse the area.
3.2 The company should provide the customer with relevant and up-to-date
literature, including information about blockages if this was the cause of
the sewer flooding.
3.3 The company should provide information about blockages to the
neighbourhood where the incident occurred, if this was the cause of the
3.4 The customer should be provided with a contact name and number so
that they can call the company or the contractors in the event of any
problems they have during the clean up.
3.5 Customers should be advised that independent advice is also available
from their local environmental health department.
3.6 The company should stay in close contact with the customer
throughout the clean-up process.
4. Companies should communicate with customers regarding
investigations into the cause of sewer flooding and solutions such
as capital schemes and/or mitigation measures if appropriate for
Following a sewer flooding incident, companies should inform customers of
the actions they will take to investigate and determine the cause of sewer
flooding and to provide a permanent solution to the problem, if appropriate.
4.1 Companies should also communicate with customers regarding the
investigations into the cause of sewer flooding.
It should be explained that causes of sewer flooding, other than blockages,
are not easily determined without lengthy investigations, particularly where
there are no previous records of sewer flooding at the property. Customers
should receive a clear explanation of what investigations are planned to
establish the cause and be given realistic timescales for this work.
4.2 Where appropriate, companies should explain the possibility of
mitigation measures being installed at a customer’s property to reduce
the risk or effect of sewer flooding.
Any relevant literature should be left with the customer, and the company
should explain fully that mitigation measures are not permanent solutions, that
they are optional and provided free of charge. All of the available options for
mitigation measures (such as the fitting of non-return valves, air-brick covers,
uPVC doors, purpose-built gates to act as flood barriers and the bolting down
of sewer pipe inspection covers) should be included where appropriate.
4.3 Where possible, companies should provide advance warning to
customer of the risk of repeated sewer flooding events.
4.4 If there is a capital scheme which will solve the problem at the
customer’s property due to be implemented, the company should
explain this to the customer as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
The company should explain how schemes are prioritised and the practical
aspects of the capital scheme – what it will entail, how long it will take, any
disruption to the customer, and how it will solve the sewer flooding problem.
The company should give a realistic timescale for completion of a capital
scheme to the customer if possible. The company should contact the
customer regularly to update them on the progress towards the completion of
a capital scheme.
Appendix 2: Financial guidelines
Dealing with customers who have been affected by sewer
flooding – financial assistance and advice
1. Companies must provide customers with a payment of GSS within
20 working days from the date of the sewer flooding incident.
GSS Regulation 7B states that GSS payments must be automatically made to
any customer who has been affected by internal sewer flooding within 20 days
of the incident. The company should provide details of the GSS payments that
the customer is entitled to. It should also inform the customer that it will make
a payment within 20 working days from the date of the sewer flooding incident
occurring. If the payment is made after this date, the customer is entitled to a
further payment of £20.
1.2 Companies must inform customers annually of their entitlement under
GSS Regulation 8 states that companies must inform customers annually of
their entitlement to GSS payments under the GSS Regulations. Good practice
is that this also includes a customer’s entitlement under enhanced GSS and
customer charter scheme. This should be provided on bills or accompanying
leaflets so customer can see what they are entitled to at a glance.
2. Companies should apply their compensation arrangements to all
customers and consider all claims for compensation.
Companies should consider the individual circumstances affecting customers
when deciding how to handle claims for compensation. In general, they
consider all claims made and respond to all customers who have made a
examine the individual circumstances of a claim and the impact it has had
on the customer;
inform the customer of entitlements under the GSS Regulations plus the
additional support offered by the company; and
consider claims for compensation in a timely manner and keep the
customer informed of decisions.
3. Companies should have a policy in place for dealing with
customers who are uninsured as a result of previous sewer
Most customers will have insurance in place to cover losses due to sewer
flooding. However, there may be some customers who are uninsured because
they cannot afford insurance due to previous sewer flooding incidents
which have made premiums or excesses too expensive; or
they have been refused insurance as a direct result of their sewer flooding
Companies should try to help this group of customers and make sure that they
are not left out of pocket as a result of a sewer flooding incident. We expect
this to be a very small number of customers and does not necessarily include
uninsured customers who have chosen not to take out insurance for any
reason other than as a result of sewer flooding.
Appendix 3: Respondents
Water and sewerage companies
Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water
Mid Kent Water
Severn Trent Water
South Staffordshire Water
South West Water
Tendring Hundred Water
Three Valleys Water
Consumer Council for Water
Consumer Council for Water (Southern)
National Water Charges Advisory Service
Association of British Insurers
The Insurance Manager Ltd