BOURNEMOUTH Water has been rapped by a consumer watchdog after a sharp rise in customer complaints.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has called on the company to improve its service after a 90.6 per cent rise in written complaints in 2015/16.

The increase – which was the second largest of any water company in England and Wales – was fuelled by problems caused by the introduction of a new billing system, with customers having to wait longer to get through to the company.

David Heath CBE, western chair for CCWater, said: “Bournemouth Water’s performance over the past year has not been good enough and the company is aware of this.

“I have asked them to give me assurances by the end of October that action is being taken to reduce complaints and avoid a repeat of the problems customers encountered last year.”

Bournemouth remains just below the industry average, despite being among ten water companies to see a rise in complaints.

Across England and Wales written complaints fell marginally by 0.5 per cent – down from 106,693 to 106,196. Telephone calls made by customers to water companies to resolve problems also continued to fall.

A spokesperson from Bournemouth Water said: “We pride ourselves on delivering an excellent customer experience and last year, for the first time in over 10 years, we saw a change to the trend of steadily decreasing numbers of customer complaints.

“Despite the large increase, because we started from a very low number of complaints, our level of complaints remained below the industry average, with 0.3 per cent of our customers finding it necessary to complain about our service.

“We had anticipated the teething problems associated with major IT projects following the installation of our new billing system and were prepared to take prompt action. We focused on managing customer complaints well and swiftly, resolving issues as they arose – we resolved 98.6 per cent of the complaints we received on first contact.”

Bournemouth Water was acquired by Pennon in April 2015 and then integrated into South West Water.

However, the spokesperson said the timing was “coincidental and unrelated”.

South West Water marginally reduced written complaints for a second successive year - down 0.4 per cent - but the is the second poorest performing water and sewerage company.

Wessex Water has been praised by CCWater for cementing its place as the industry’s best performing water and sewerage company with a 19.2 per cent reduction in written complaints.