'Serious' concerns raised about Irish Water’s complaints process on Bailieboro scheme
Irish Water was 'non-compliant' across several of its customer protection obligations, particularly regarding complaint handling and customer communications in relation to the issuing of a 'Do Not Consume' notice on the Bailieborough Public Water Scheme in the run up to Christmas 2019.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), Ireland’s independent energy and water regulator, has published the finding today (Wednesday) following an investigation.
The regulator has published an information paper regarding the compliance investigation conducted in relation to Irish Water’s handling of issues arising at the Bailieborough Public Water Supply Scheme (PWS) in County Cavan between October and December 2019.
The CRU investigation focused on Irish Water’s compliance with requirements to provide a simple and efficient complaints process, as well as timely and accurate communications to customers served the scheme during the relevant time period.
From early October, there were repeated recordings of high levels of manganese in water serving the supply scheme, which serves a population of 7,785 customers in County Cavan including the areas of Bailieborough, Killinkere, Virginia, Crossbane and Mullagh.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) issued a ‘Do Not Consume’ notice on December 13, 2019, which remained in place for 10 days until December 23, 2019. The notice followed an audit by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Bailieborough Water Treatment Plant (WTP) on December 12, 2019.
In relation to Irish Water’s complaint handling responsibilities, the CRU found that Irish Water failed to correctly categorise customer contacts as complaints and did not recognise and escalate the large number of complaints received to the appropriate levels. These failings contributed to a delay in identifying and remedying the matter in a timely manner.
In regard to communications, a breakdown in internal communications was found to have contributed to a delay in the issuance of the ‘Do Not Consume’ notice and, with it, the provision of accurate and timely information to customers.
The CRU made a further finding relating to the application of rebates to bill-paying (non-domestic) customers during the period of the ‘Do Not Consume’ notice. Customers impacted by such a notice are required to be discounted or refunded for water supplied to them throughout the duration of the notice. In this case, customers were only refunded when the issue was highlighted during the investigation.
The CRU is liaising with Irish Water to ensure the completion of satisfactory remedial actions to address the issues identified in the investigation.
The CRU Commissioner for Water, Dr Paul McGowan, said: “This investigation has raised serious concerns about Irish Water’s provision of an efficient complaints process, which can react to issues reported by customers.
"Customer complaints must be responded to and escalated in order to ensure swift identification of issues. In this case, Irish Water missed opportunities to identify water quality issues through the large number of complaints received."
Mr Gowan said that delays in identifying the issue impacted on the provision of timely and accurate communication to customers. "This is vital to avoid confusion and safeguard public health. The requested remedial actions must be delivered by Irish Water to ensure these failings do not reoccur. The CRU will continue to monitor Irish Water’s compliance with its obligations to protect customers.”
Irish Water has apologised to customers, assured them the water is safe and steps have been taken to remedy matters.