Consumer Representation in Water Services in the United Kingdom

Special Report: Regulation and Users of Networks
By David Hall

After a brief historical perspective on consumer representation for utilities in the UK, the focus of the paper is on the regional customer service committees (CSCs) experience and its evaluation. The system for representation of consumers in water has developed over the last 25 years as the connection with local authorities has been first weakened and then broken (regionalisation in 1974, “nationalisation” in 1983, privatisation of 1989). What role are the CSCs playing in this process? As administrators of complaints machinery, the CSCs seem to have performed their task satisfactorily. As representatives of consumer interests, the CSCs have been less obviously effective, partly because their integration into the regulatory system has clearly made it more difficult for them to adopt a significantly different policy position from OFWAT on key issues such as disconnections. Rather, there has been a shared “industry position” articulated by the water companies, OFWAT and the CSCs. Meanwhile political representatives — both MPs and local councils — and NGOs and pressure groups were active in representing the consumer interests.

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