The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), Ireland’s independent energy and water regulator, has today published an information paper regarding the compliance investigation conducted in relation to Irish Water’s handling of issues arising at the Bailieborough Public Water Supply Scheme (PWS) in County Cavan between October and December 2019.
The investigation focused on Irish Water’s compliance with requirements to provide a simple and efficient complaints process, as well as timely and accurate communications to customers served by Bailieborough PWS between October and December 2019. From early October, there were repeated recordings of high levels of manganese in water serving the supply scheme. Bailieborough PWS serves a population of 7,785 customers in County Cavan, including the areas of Bailieborough, Killinkere, Virginia, Crossbane and Mullagh.
Following an audit by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the Bailieborough Water Treatment Plant (WTP) on 12th December 2019, the Health Service Executive (HSE) decided that a ‘Do Not Consume’ notice should be placed on the supply from 13th December 2019. This was in place for ten days, until 23rd December 2019.
The CRU found that Irish Water was non-compliant across several of its customer protection obligations, particularly regarding complaint handling and customer communications.
In relation to Irish Water’s complaint handling responsibilities, the CRU found that Irish Water failed to correctly categorise customer contacts as complaints and did not recognise and escalate the large number of complaints received to the appropriate levels. These failings contributed to a delay in identifying and remedying the matter in a timely manner.
In regard to communications, a breakdown in internal communications was found to have contributed to a delay in the issuance of the ‘Do Not Consume’ notice and, with it, the provision of accurate and timely information to customers.
The CRU made a further finding relating to the application of rebates to bill-paying (non-domestic) customers during the period of the ‘Do Not Consume’ notice. Customers impacted by such a notice are required to be discounted or refunded for water supplied to them throughout the duration of the notice. In this case, customers were only refunded when the issue was highlighted during the investigation.
The CRU is liaising with Irish Water to ensure the completion of satisfactory remedial actions to address the issues identified in the investigation. The compliance investigation information note can be found here.
The CRU Commissioner for Water, Dr. Paul McGowan said: “This investigation has raised serious concerns about Irish Water’s provision of an efficient complaints process which can react to issues reported by customers. Customer complaints must be responded to and escalated in order to ensure swift identification of issues. In this case, Irish Water missed opportunities to identify water quality issues through the large number of complaints received. Delays in identifying the issue also had an impact on the provision of timely and accurate communication to customers, which is vital to avoid confusion and safeguard public health. The requested remedial actions must be delivered by Irish Water to ensure these failings do not reoccur. The CRU will continue to monitor Irish Water’s compliance with its obligations to protect customers.”