United Utilities gains international accreditation for supporting vulnerable customers

North West water company United Utilities has gained international recognition for the way it supports vulnerable customers, with assessors giving top marks in every area.

The Warrington-based business underwent an audit of its Priority Services offering against the new ISO Consumer Vulnerability Kitemark and came out with a glowing report. Every required standard was achieved, with no non-conformances or recommendations for improvement, and the company is now one of the first in the industry to hold the accreditation.

In reviewing how United Utilities supports vulnerable customers, assessors looked at how the company makes its services accessible to all through a variety of communication options, the ways it supports colleagues so they have the skills and confidence to help customers in the most appropriate way, and what it does to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. They met people from across the customer team and listened in to calls to understand how the processes are put into practice.

Sally Ainsworth, Head of Customer Services at United Utilities, said: “We’ve been verified against the British Standards BS18477 certification for the past three years, so to be among the first water companies to gain the new international ISO accreditation, is absolutely fantastic and testament to our commitment to helping our customers.

“We’re really proud of our Priority Services scheme and the lengths that our colleagues go to when supporting our  customers living in vulnerable circumstances, so this accreditation is really about our people and their dedication to providing such high levels of personalised support.

“Assessors were really impressed with how our customer care approach is embedded right across the organisation, the range of help we provide, and our constant desire to improve. To receive the new international standard without a single non-conformance was really the icing on the cake.”

Heather Barker is one of the team leaders who met with assessors during the four-day review. She said: “Even though we have previously been part of the British Standards verification we were still pretty nervous as we know how good a job we do supporting our customers and wondered how we could get this across to the auditor.

“We were able to talk about all the extra training we have had which enables us to tailor our support to individual needs, including autism, mental health and dementia awareness sessions from charities specialising in living with vulnerabilities.

“We know life is tough and it can be daunting for many of our customers to pick up the telephone, but when they do we want to make sure they receive guidance and support and, if possible, go away with a smile on their face as well.

“We all say being part of the Priority Services team is a very rewarding job and we get incredible satisfaction from being able to go the extra mile for our customers with additional needs.”

United Utilities was the first water company to share its Priority Services Register data with the energy sector, and is now sharing with all district network operators in the North West. Discussions have also started on how this can be extended to other areas, such as the fire and rescue services, so that more agencies across the region are joined-up.

There are more than 300,000 customers registered on the United Utilities’ Priority Services scheme, which provides a range of additional help from nominating a trusted person to help with an account, to additional help in the event of a loss of supply. The free service is open to all customers who would benefit from extra support whether due to age, ill health, disability, mental health problems, financial worries or language barriers.

Find out about Priority Services