SOUTHERN Water's bosses have been paying themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds in bonuses whilst the utility firm has been failing customers.

Chief executive Matthew Wright earned a pay packet worth £715,600 last year - at a time when his company was receiving 43 complaints a day.

Following the revelation that Southern Water is the worst performing water company for the fourth year in a row concerns have been raised that the 15,799 complaints received by the company in 2015/16 could be the tip of the iceberg.

More unsuspecting customers' bills could be wrong and last night they were urged to double check their bills to make sure they were not being overcharged.

The Worthing-based firm was yesterday revealed to be the worst water company in the country by the Consumer Council for water watchdog - and was branded "completely unacceptable" by critics.

The watchdog yesterday advised customers to check their bills carefully.

The firm received more than 15,000 complaints in the past year - more than double the national average.

Last year the company received 10 per cent more complaints than 2014/15 - twice the industry average - with 77 written complaints for every 10,000 customers.

During the year their profits rose 28 per cent to £119.9 million.

The Consumer Council for Water said that Southern Water received complaints for a range of issues - partially contributed to by the roll out of compulsory metering across the region - but said the crux of the problem stemmed from long running problems with their billing systems.

They added that the fact that so many written complaints had been referred to them suggested customers were particularly frustrated with Southern Water's own complaints handling processes.

For repeated years the watchdog has tried to work with the company to make improvements and said they were "very concerned" about the "disappointing lack of improvement".

The company's failings have been criticised by consumers and MPs.

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said: "Once again residents are being failed by a private company providing a crucial public service. Southern Water’s performance is clearly unacceptable, particularly after years of promising improvements.

“People deserve reliable, cost-effective and accountable public services – yet time after time they are being let down. If Southern Water can’t get its act together then the franchise should be revisited – and a publicly owned option must be on the table. Ultimately, when services are owned by the people who rely on them, there is more accountability, more democracy, and the knowledge that profits aren’t ending up in the pockets of big business.”


THE man paid £700,000 a year to run a utility firm has failed to get our bills right.

Matthew Wright took over as chief executive of Southern Water in 2011.

Since then the Worthing-based company has consistently been rated as the worst performing water company in the country.

Last night the Consumer Council for Water urged customers to double check their bills to make sure they were not being overcharged.

Year after year Southern Water has been judged the worst performing utility company by the watchdog. Every year it has promised to make improvements. Every year the profits and directors’ pay packets have grown.

Last year Mr Wright was paid a £1.25 million bonus for his “long service” to the company – covering the same time period as the utility company’s appalling record.

He also received a £273,000 “performance-related bonus” last year – but it was knocked down 25 per cent because of his failure to improve customer service standards – known as the Service Incentive Mechanism (SIM) score.

That is on top of his £364,400 base salary – which also rose by £9,000 last year.

The company defended the high salaries saying “salary and bonuses are calculated taking into account the full range of factors – operational performance, financial performance and customer service”.

It added: “Our operational performance has been excellent in many areas including leakage levels and drinking water quality and this was recognised by the independent committee but it is important to stress no members of staff received financial remuneration connected with customer service.”

Southern Water blamed the roll out of compulsory metering across the region since 2010 for the problems customers faced with their bills.

The watchdog agreed – pointing out that customers able to compare their bills to their meters were more likely to spot an error but added that the problems with Southern’s billing systems were more deep rooted.

However the company also performed worst of all the water providers for supply, sewerage and all other areas.

As a result of the watchdog’s findings Southern Water has been ordered to produce more detailed monthly reports to show what it is doing to improve. Last year’s results also noted that Southern Water had “repeatedly pledged” to improve and had “ample time” to make changes, yet a year later it still had not done enough.

The watchdog warned it was disappointed in the lack of action taken to improve matters – and Southern Water will now be expected to produce monthly reports on complaints.

A spokesman said: “The gap between Southern and the rest of the industry is widening.

“We have met the company regularly to discuss its problems and plans to address the underlying reasons for high complaint levels. The company’s lack of improvement is therefore disappointing.

“Our strong criticism of Southern in last year’s report has not yet prompted the improvement in results we sought. We therefore feel it is necessary to place greater pressure on the company to turn its situation around.”

When asked by The Argus if it wished to say sorry to customers for the poor service provided in the past four years, Southern Water refused. Instead of an apology, director of strategy Simon Oates said: “We are absolutely focused on making our service the best it can possibly be and we recognise that last year’s results are not good enough.

“There is a real passion and momentum within the staff of Southern Water to keep improving our customer service and we will continue to work to raise standards and cut complaints month on month, year on year.”

The company now insists a raft of measures is in place and claims it is already improving – but the results are too recent to appear in the Consumer Council for Water’s latest report.

The company justifies its failures by pointing out it is “demonstrating significant reductions in issues such as sewer flooding and pollution incidents – all of which matter a great deal to our customers”.

Last September the company was fined £160,000 – a drop in the ocean compared to its profits – for discharging 40 million litres of untreated sewage into the sea.

Mr Oates added: “Operational performance is the day-to-day running of our business that directly impacts on our customers such as leakage levels and drinking water quality. We are industry leaders in both these areas.

“But of course, our customers deserve the best possible service, both in terms of the day-to-day delivery of water and wastewater services and customer service.”

At the same time the number of customers satisfied with the value for money and services provided by Southern Water has consistently fallen.

Poor customer satisfaction could land Southern Water with financial penalties.

In 2014 the company was penalised to the tune of £6.3 million – however it could face a penalty running into tens of millions of pounds. While Southern Water’s own financial reports suggest the “penalties will be reflected in customers’ bills from 2020” the watchdog insisted they could not be passed on to customers through bills – the firm has to bear the cost.


THE Consumer Council for water is the independent voice for water consumers in England and Wales.

The watchdog deals with complaints when customers are unable to resolve their disputes with water companies directly.

Its figures rate water companies on the basis of the number of written complaints per 10,000 households so they are directly comparable regardless of the size of area or number of customers they supply.

Disagreements considered by this report are only written complaints via the watchdog – meaning there will also be thousands more disputes resolved directly between customer and utility company.

The watchdog could not say exactly how many of the complaints were upheld but the number scaled up to the watchdog suggested Southern Water’s customers were “frustrated” with the service they received.

The roll out of metered billing will mean customers have seen changes to their bills, which has possibly led to more complaints being made.

But the watchdog said it also means customers are more able to compare what they should be paying with the amount they are being charged.