Congress Resources: Papers, posters and presentations

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Consumer Democracy - Strengthening The Voice Of Consumers In The Water Industry

Congress: 2015
Author(s): Sarah Beattie-Smith (EDINBURGH, UK), Robert McGeachy, Gail Walker, Graeme Barton
Citizens Advice Scotland1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 5: Financing, investment and pricing schemes,
AbstractIntroduction CAS's paper at the XVth World Water Congress will focus on the theme of 'Consumer Democracy -- strengthening the voice of consumers in the water industry'. Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), our 61 member Citizen Advice Bureaux (CAB), the Citizen Advice consumer service, and the Extra Help Unit, form Scotland's largest independent advice network. Advice provided by our service is free, independent, confidential, impartial and available to everyone. Our self-help website Adviceguide provides information on rights and helps people solve their problems. We are champions for citizens and consumers and in 2013/14 the Citizens Advice Service in Scotland helped over 330,000 clients in Scotland and dealt with over one million issues overall. In addition, the Scottish zone of our self-help website Adviceguide received approximately 4.2 million unique page views. In 2013/14, our citizens advice bureaux recorded a financial gain for clients of over £124 million. If we paid our volunteers it would cost the service £10 million. Research by the Fraser of Allander Institute into the economic benefits of advice shows that the Scottish CAB Service contributes an annual total benefit to the common good in Scotland of nearly £180 million. On 1 April 2014, the roles and responsibilities of Consumer Futures were transferred by the UK Government to the Citizens Advice Service, encompassing CAS and our sister organisation Citizens Advice (England and Wales). CAS now represents the interests of citizens and consumers in essential regulated markets including energy, post and, in Scotland, water. Our aim within the water industry is to challenge and shape policy to ensure it reflects the needs of its customers. A key aspect of CAS's work in the water industry is to provide consumers with a strong voice in the water industry. This includes helping to promote customer challenge processes to ensure that the voices of consumers are heard, respected and listened to within the industry. Consumer democracy In recent years Scottish Water and other key stakeholders have sought to increase their levels of engagement with consumers, and strengthen the link between feedback it receives from its customers and the service they receive. There has also been an attempt to promote greater levels of customer challenge in the process of setting prices and charges through the creation of a Customer Forum. This body was established in September 2011 between Scottish Water, the Water Industry Commission for Scotland ('WICS') and by CAS's predecessor body, the National Consumer Council. This agreement confirmed that the purpose of the Customer Forum was to play a formal role in the strategic review of charges ('SRC') process for 2015 -- 2021. The Co-operation Agreement confirmed that the Consumer Forum should do so by undertaking research with Scottish Water to establish customers' priorities, by representing customers priorities and preferences to WICS and to Scottish Water and by securing the most appropriate outcomes for customers through the SRC process. It is widely thought that the Customer Forum made a positive contribution to the SRC process. CAS has been working with Scottish Water, WICS and other stakeholders to consider ways in which the positive contribution of the Customer Forum to the SRC process can be built upon, and the voices of consumers further strengthened within the water industry. This paper looks at the lessons that have been learnt from the Customer Forum, and from other models of customer challenge in regulated industries. It also considers how best practice from these areas has been used to develop the Customer Forum to ensure that it helps to inform the SRC process beyond 2021, and to raise service standards within the water industry. The aims and objectives of CAS's proposed input are as follows: * To provide a summary of some of the key issues highlighted by consumers in the water industry to date; * To identify the contribution made by customer bodies in the water industry, and in other regulated industries, to improve outcomes for consumers; * To highlight models used in the water industry and other regulated industries to improve outcomes for consumers; and * To offer recommendations on how consumer democracy can be strengthened in the water industry Methods/Materials CAS's proposed input will provide an analysis of customer challenge in the water industry and of the scope for further developing this approach by drawing upon a combination of best practice, proven experience and independent qualitative and quantitative research. The paper focuses on the views of consumers by drawing upon recent research. It also considers some of the issues emerging from ongoing research being undertaken by CAS. Results and Discussion The main results, and discussion points arising, from CAS's paper, are: * There are additional and innovative methods of engagement through which consumers can provide feedback about service issues in the water industry; * Customer challenge processes can potentially offer consumers significant opportunities to influence key decision making processes within the water industry; * The ability of customer challenge bodies to influence these processes will depend upon the willingness of the main stakeholders to engage with such bodies; * The extent to which key groups of consumers, including disadvantaged groups, are represented within the customer challenge bodies and processes are explored; * One of the major challenges for customer challenge bodies in the water industry in the future will be their ability to influence decision making around charges, affordability and service standards at a time of financial stringency and potential cutbacks;
2011 IWRA - International Water Resources Association - - Admin