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Concerns raised about length of boil water notices and customer complaints at Irish Water

The Water Advisory Board said that 20 out of the 21 boil water notices in place at the end of March were long-term.

File photo of boiling water
File photo of boiling water
Image: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

THE WATER ADVISORY Board (WAB) has raised concerns that 20 out of the 21 boil water notices in place at the end of the first quarter of 2022 were long-term – that is, exceeding 30 days.

This means that the solution to fix the problem with the plant could not be addressed quickly and “requires significant investment by Irish Water”, the WAB notes.

The board was established in June 2018 to advise on measures needed to improve the transparency and accountability of Irish Water.

In its latest report, the WAB states that under normal circumstances “no consumer should be on a long-term boil water notice.”

“Boil water notices should be kept at low levels and for as short a period as possible,” it adds.

At the end of quarter one in 2022, 13,579 people were on boil water notices – which is a decrease on the number of people on boil water notices at the end of the previous quarter (16,069).

However, the WAB states that almost all the notices in place at the end of March were long-term boil water notices which means they were in place for longer than 30 days.

The report continues: “The WAB notes this trend with concern. Some of the larger water supplies which were on long-term boil water notices at the end of Q1 2022 included Whitegate Regional (9,482 people) and Gort (2,776 people).

“The WAB will continue to monitor the number of people affected by short-term boil water notices, particularly for supplies where notices need to be put in place on more than one occasion.

“It will continue to monitor Irish Water’s progress in this area and that boil water notices remain in place for as short a period of time as possible.”

Other key findings

The WAB report notes that Irish Water’s performance declined in almost all the ‘Customer Complaints management’ metrics in 2020.

“In 2020, Irish Water responded to 97.89% of domestic and 93.75% of non-domestic complaints within five working days, with either a resolution or an outline plan of the proposed resolution.

“This is the lowest five-day response rate for non-domestic complaints since Irish Water started reporting against this metric in 2018. Irish Water issued a final decision within two months to 94.45% of domestic and 88.82% of non-domestic customers in 2020.

Irish Water’s 2020 performance with complaints raised by domestic and non-domestic customers is the lowest since it first reported in 2018.

Commenting on this element of the report, Paul McGowan, chairperson of the WAB, said: “Customer service is at the core of utility delivery, and timely, effective complaints management is an important element of customer service.

“The WAB is disappointed to observe this level of performance in an area it would reasonably expect to see improvement year-on-year as it beds in its customer complaints processes.

“It is of particular concern to see deterioration in this area while at the same time recording an improvement in customer satisfaction.”

McGowan added that Irish Water’s response time for customer complaints and issues should be improved “in order to avoid households and businesses having to make follow up calls to the company”.

Despite these issues, Irish Water achieved a customer satisfaction score of 77% in 2020 – an increase on 73% in 2019.

The report also notes that there has been a reduction in the number of priority areas, where water treatment needs to improve, from 148 in 2017 to 92 in 2022.

This includes the number of areas discharging raw sewage in Q2 2022 and the number of areas in 2021 that did not meet Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive standards.

In response to the report, a spokesperson for Irish Water said: “The protection of public health is a top priority for Irish Water, along with key outcomes such as reducing leakage, eliminating boil water notices, removing water supply zones from the EPA’s Remedial Action List, and tackling the discharge of raw or inadequately treated sewage.

“It is essential that we both protect the environment and support the development of water services for homes and businesses.”

In a statement, Irish Water Chief Executive Niall Gleeson said: “Continued investment saw over half a million customers removed from at-risk water supplies last year, 99.7% of our drinking water was compliant with regulations and we have removed two million people from boil water notices, particularly long-term notices.

“Through our Leakage Reduction Programme, we are on track to reduce leakage to under 20% in Dublin and 25% nationally by 2030.

“We have also continued to ramp up investment in wastewater infrastructure. We have already eliminated 60% of all raw sewage discharges and are on track to end almost all the remainder by 2025.”

Today’s report is the tenth quarterly document published by the WAB, and the second report of 2022.

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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