Thursday, 18 August 2011

Thames Water - Nice Work If You Can Get It

Image from Thames Water Website

A woman from the Directors Office at Thames Water finally calls today (see post Thames Water - Overcharging Customers). She says Martin Baggs the Chief Executive has asked her to investigate my complaint and she will call me back when she has more information.

I express my surprise it has taken 4 days for Thames Water to respond to a complaint sent to their CEO, an executive who earned £1.67m last year. She immediately denies this figure is correct.

I have written to complain that Thames Water has fitted a water meter at my home, but is still charging me as if it hadn't. Also they have ignored all the attempts I have made to contact them since March.

Anyway it turns out I was wrong.

No not wrong about the CEO's pay - more on that later.

I was wrong to think Thames Water had fitted a water meter. They haven't.

It turns out Thames Water (who remember run a monopoly business, if you live in their area you must pay them for water) didn't actually fit a water meter at my home. They said they were going to, they came out and did a survey. They even dug up the pavement, laid a new paving slab, and fitted a new inspection cover. But they didn't actually fit a water meter.

No. apparently there were too many tree roots, telephone cables, and cable TV cables to fit a meter underground. So the men packed up their van and went on their way.

60 days later I emailed to ask why Thames Water hadn't lowered my direct debit to reflect the reduced use measured on my new water meter. Did they take the chance to say 'Oh no sorry we didn't fit a meter?' No.

Did they take the next opportunity - when I asked for compensation for failing to meet their service guarantee? No, they didn't say 'sorry we didn't fit a meter' then either.

That's because Thames Water was helping themselves to £57 a month from my bank account. Imagine I had stopped paying my monthly direct debit - would they have taken more notice of me then?

So the woman from Thames says she will send out an engineer - at my convenience, to have another go at fitting a meter. They will make £40 payment for failing their service pledge by ignoring my query in June. They will also stop my direct debit. If they cannot fit a meter they will move me onto the single occupant household tariff. I have looked this up online it is £187 per year. No wonder they've forgotten to fit a meter for me - Thames Water are charging me £570 a year! I squeeze another £40 out of her as they have failed to fit a meter within their 60 day service guarantee, but they won't repay any interest on my over-payments.

And when would all this have happened if I hadn't emailed
the Chief Executive Martin Baggs?

Er, never. Yes that's right Thames Water would have carried on collecting £57 a month until I complained.

I ask about the systems they must have in place when they are unable to fit a meter. Surely a whole set of processes kick in? I was just unlucky apparently, they didn't.

But surely when I emailed in June enquiring about my account, then a whole set of processes must kick in. No apparently not in my case.

So maybe when I asked for compensation under the Thames Water service guarantee? No no systems kicking in there either.

Apparently where I went wrong was I didn't make a formal complaint in June. I see it's my fault. The woman continues, If I had made a formal complaint Thames Water do have some systems in place which kick in. Otherwise It would appear there are no procedures in place which actually work.

Naturally I will be writing to Ofwat, their regulator, about this.

Written complaints to Thames Water in 2009/10 = 32,809*
(*source Thames Water website)

This is surprising, because Thames Water is very proud of the way it is run. So proud it paid its top directors almost £2m in bonuses last year. The woman I am dealing with denies that the CEO earned £1.67m last year when we first spoke. So I read the Thames Water Annual Report and Accounts (as a company this is a legal document).

Martin Baggs, CEO In numbers
Bonus 2010 - £179,297
Long Term Incentive Scheme Bonus 2010 (payable from 2013) - £479,400
Total bonuses - £658,697
Daily bonus rate - £2,533.44

Thames Water Profit in 2010 £208m

Martin Baggs, CEO, is on holiday at the moment (nice work if you can get it - he's earning £2,533.44 in bonus payments alone every day he's on holiday) so apparently he's asked Mike Tempest the Customer Services Director to write to me and apologise for the service I have received.
As I have published Martin Baggs salary here previously I have asked for Mr Tempest to correct me if I have falsely reported Thames Water's CEO's salary - because I cannot find it listed in the Annual Report and Accounts.

Thames Water is a monopoly. I cannot take my business elsewhere - even when they fail to live up to their guarantees. I must take my £40 compensation and shut up.

Thames Water's vision is 'If they had a choice customers would choose Thames Water'

To put it another way - Thames Water, nice work if you can get it.

Thames Water called to say a press officer would answer my question about salaries and bonuses. The press officer seems a little bewildered as to why I would link my complaint to the pay of their CEO. I answer that his pay is for running a utility we have to use and the Directors have been handsomely rewarded, so if the service falls very short their pay is important. I explain it is important the information I have published is correct, so I am giving them an opportunity to correct it - one of their staff has told me I am mistaken that the CEO's pay in 2010 was £1.67m .

I say I have found the bonus payments listed in their 92 page Report and Accounts but not the CEO's salary and bonuses. The press officer responds - 'have I been in touch with you to correct the information?' No he hasn't. So can he confirm the figure? 'No' he can't.

He says I have obviously read the Report and Accounts, the information I want is in it. Can he tell me what it says? 'No'. I put it to him that the figure I have seen reported must be correct. I have since re-read the Report and Accounts on page 47 it states the salary of the highest paid director is £1,168,425 with additional bonuses of £500,753. This adds up to £1,669,178 - or to put it another way £822 less than £1.67m.

So I stand corrected the CEO didn't earn £1.67m he earned £822 less than that.

I say that as he has not corrected me, or offered any information to suggest my article is incorrect I won't be changing anything. He has no problem with that.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Thames Water - Overcharging

Tescco kept overcharging me - I shop elsewhere
British Gas overcharged me - I changed supplier
Santander messed up my savings - I moved to another bank

Thames Water has a Monopoly
Thames Water in numbers
Profit 2010 £208m
Highest Paid Director 2010 (CEO Martin Baggs) £1.67m
£1.67m pay = £6,153 per day

If you live in Thames Water's area you must pay them for your water.

In the UK, unless a meter is fitted, water is charged based on the the rateable value of the property. Rateable values were last reviewed in 1991 - 20 years ago, and have no relation to the amount of water a home uses.

So when Thames water increased their charges for my home to £570 a year I applied for a water meter. The USwitch website calculated I would pay around £280 a year for my single occupant home - a saving of £300 a year - more than 50%.

Paying for more water than I use helps Thames Water make £208m profit and allowed them to pay their Chief Executive Martin Baggs £1.67m last year - that's £6,153 a day!
I'm sure he's worth it, but the service Thames Water provide is appalling.

I applied for a meter on 22 March 2011. Thames Water aim to complete the process in 14 days, but allow themselves 60 days. My meter was fitted within around 3 weeks.

However instead of changing my billing Thames Water continue to help themselves to £57 from my bank account each month. The billing year starts in April, so to date they have collected £285 - more than the projected charge for a whole year!

When the 60 day deadline passed I emailed Thames Water on 22 June to query my billing arrangement. They replied that I would receive a response in 20 working days. I heard nothing.

Thames Water minimum service guarantee promises to pay me £30 for failure to respond to my query. So I applied for that compensation on 6 August. They promise to respond within 10 working days. I have heard nothing.

Today, 13 August, I phoned them. Thames Water agree they have failed to meet their service standards. I speak to a manager Sarah who tells me they allow 60 days to change my billing from rateable value to metered and this deadline expired on 22 June. I explain that I emailed on 22 June when the 60 days expired, but apart from a holding letter on 29th June I have heard nothing.

The manager says she can only escalate my complaint and I will receive an answer in 5 days. I ask her for the name of her Chief Executive - which she has to look up - obviously she hasn't seen him around her office any time recently.

Thames Water work fast for their £208m profit

60 days - To fit a meter

20 working days - To respond to a billing enquiry

10 working days - To respond to a compensation claim

5working days - To respond to a complaint

7 years - In 2010 TW told Ofwat it had just found 4,000 unanswered emails from 2003

I can't leave Thames Water, I can only complain to Ofwat - the regulator. In 2008 Ofwat fined Thames Water £9.7m for among other things failing to own up about the number of customer complaints.

Update: I emailed this post to Martin Baggs The Chief Executive. I received a standard reply the last line of which reads:

Our Vision: If customers had a choice they would choose Thames Water.

Hilarious. There's no humility inside a monopoly.