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Clear Business Water

  • Report no:
    201804489
  • Date:
    March 2020
  • Body:
    Clear Business Water
  • Sector:
    Water

Summary

Mr C complained that Clear Business Water (CBW) had failed to communicate with him appropriately or reasonably about his account. He also complained that CBW had billed him unreasonably for water which he did not believe he was liable for and that they had failed to respond reasonably to his complaint.

Mr C disputed whether CBW were in fact his licensed provider, and said that he had been denied the opportunity to choose a provider. Mr C said that CBW had acted unreasonably and inappropriately by sending him letters from an organisation called Universal Debt Collection (UDC). UDC was in fact part of the same company as CBW, but this had not been clear from their correspondence. Mr C said that UDC had threatened him with court action in England, as well as site visits, for which he would be charged and had ignored the fact that he was disputing his water charges. Mr C said that he had to submit his complaint several times, and CBW did not respond properly to the issues he was raising. Mr C also said that CBW had written repeatedly to his home address, which was inappropriate and distressing for his elderly and unwell mother who lived there.

CBW told us that they did not accept that they had acted unreasonably or inappropriately. UDC was part of the same group as CBW, but CBW did not have written debt collection or disconnection procedures. Their process for chasing payment was automated, which CBW believed ensured that their customers were treated fairly. They denied being aware of any vulnerable individuals at any of the addresses they wrote to, and said that they had written to Mr C's residential address when mail was repeatedly returned from his business address.

We found that whilst CBW were Mr C's licensed provider and were entitled to pursue him for payment, their communication with him had been unreasonable, as it had been inaccurate and misleading. We found that UDC employees had given Mr C the impression by telephone that they were a separate debt collection agency. We did not find any evidence Mr C had informed CBW there were vulnerable individuals at the residential address they were writing to. We also found CBW had failed to explain clearly to Mr C what they were billing him for. We found that CBW had not responded fully to Mr C's complaint when they received it, and that they had continued to pursue him for payment whilst the account was in dispute and during our investigation into Mr C's complaint. We upheld all aspects of Mr C's complaint.

 

Redress and Recommendations

The Ombudsman's recommendations are set out below:

What we are asking Clear Business Water to do for Mr C:

Complaint number

What we found

What the organisation should do

What we need to see

(a) (b) and (c) CBW failed to communicate with Mr C reasonably, and unreasonably attempted to bill Mr C for water without resolving his disputes

Apologise to Mr C for the failings identified in this case.

This apology should comply with SPSO guidelines on making an apology, available at www.spso.org.uk/leaflets-and-guidance

A copy or evidence of the apology

By: 20 April 2020

(c) CBW had not properly investigated Mr C's complaint about double charging CBW should ensure that they have the systems in place to ensure complaints are properly investigated. They should apply these to investigate Mr C's complaint that he had not previously received communication from Aimera and provide him with a clear summary of all the accounts they believe he holds with them, as well any records they hold of contact between him and Aimera

A copy of the response provided to Mr C.

By: 20 April 2020

(a) (b) and (c) CBW had not made an offer of goodwill which took into account all the failings identified by this report CBW should confirm and review their offer of a goodwill payment to Mr C, so that it encompasses the failings identified in this report and in their investigation of the complaint about communication from Aimera

A copy of the revised offer of goodwill, together with evidence of how it has been calculated, when it was offered and how it was paid.

By 20 April 2020

We are asking Clear Business Water to improve the way they do things:

Complaint number

What we found

Outcome needed

What we need to see

(a)

CBW threatened visits from an Investigations Officer, although there was no locus for on-site investigation

CBW should have systems in place to ensure they only issue correspondence which accurately reflects their billing and complaints process

Evidence that these systems are in place and have been communicated to all staff responsible for revenue collection.

By: 20 April 2020

(b) CBW had issued copies of court documents, when they were not engaged in legal action CBW should only issue documents that accurately reflects their billing and debt recovery process and the actions they are taking

Evidence that this change has been communicated to all staff responsible for revenue collection and that the necessary procedures are in place.

By: 20 April 2020

We are asking Clear Business Water to improve their complaints handling:

Complaint number What we found Outcome needed What we need to see
(c)

CBW's complaint handling fell below an acceptable standard

CBW should respond timeously and comprehensively to complaints following the principles of SPSO's Model Complaint Handling Procedure

Evidence that CBW has appropriate complaints handling systems in place, and that these have been communicated to relevant staff who are adequately trained to apply them.

By: 18 June 2020

In response to other complaints upheld by this office, Clear Business Water told us that they had already taken action to fix various problems we had identified. We will ask them for evidence that this has happened:

Complaint number What we found What the organisation say they have done What we need to see
(a)

CBW's and UDC's communication with Mr C was inaccurate and misleading in its references to English Court proceedings

CBW have updated the correspondence they and UDC issue, to ensure it accurately reflects the jurisdiction they are operating in

Evidence that CBW have implemented a form of quality assurance, which allows them to monitor whether their updated procedures are being followed.

By: 20 April 2020

(a) UDC continued to pursue Mr C for payment after he had raised a formal complaint and after CBW were aware the Ombudsman was investigating their complaint CBW have updated their process for pursuing payment to allow a stop to be put in when a complaint has been raised

Evidence that CBW have implemented a form of quality assurance that allows them to monitor whether procedures are being followed.

By: 20 April 2020

Updated: March 18, 2020