Small-scale water networks
Small-scale water networks (also known as minor and intermediate retailers) are councils and private businesses that provide water and sewerage services to 50,000 or fewer customers. Collectively, 67 retailers licensed under the Water Industry Act 2012 (WI Act) provide drinking water services to approximately 5,600 customers and sewerage services, and community wastewater management systems (CWMS), to approximately 99,200 customers.
The Commission regulates the customer service and pricing aspects of small-scale water networks' operations because these retailers generally hold a monopoly provider position in the market. Small-scale water networks must comply with a regulatory determination, consumer protection measures and reporting requirements set by the Commission (under statutory powers). The overall regime is summarised as:
- Consumer protection measures – the water retail code for minor and intermediate retailers sets out the behavioural standards and minimum requirements to be complied with by small-scale networks when engaging with their customers.
- Water and sewerage services prices – small-scale water networks must comply with pricing principles set by the Commission when developing their prices.
- Performance assessment – reporting guidelines set out the Commission’s performance monitoring framework.
To provide transparency, the Commission publishes annual regulatory performance reports on the performance of small-scale water networks. The focus of the report is on residential retail services, and it informs customers about the quality and reliability of the services they receive at an aggregate level.
The Commission also monitors and reports on small-scale water networks' compliance with regulatory requirements takes enforcement action in instances of non-compliance, if necessary.
The Commission publishes annually statistics and summary insights on the minor and intermediate retailers’ performance outcomes including customer service and reliability performance compared with historical performance, utilising data provided by the minor and intermediate retailers.
Customer service performance in 2020-21
In accordance with the Water Retail Code, all retailers must have in place enquiries, complaints and dispute resolution procedures approved by the Commission.
Further, retailers must offer programs to help customers experiencing financial hardship, such as flexible payment arrangements, customer hardship policies, and rules governing supply restrictions and debt recovery. Retailers must also actively engage with their customers to assist them in meeting their payment obligations. However, where a customer is not willing to participate or ceases making payment for reasons other than financial difficulty, service restriction or debt recovery may apply.
In 2020-21, retailers reported to have received a total of 421 complaints, 61 percent of which were related to sewerage services.
The number of customers on hardship programs were reported to have reduced in 2020-21 (132) compared with 2019-20 (273). The number of customers reported to be on flexible payment plans in 2020-21 was 4,989.
The number of legal actions undertaken against residential customers for non-payment of a water or sewerage bill were reported to have reduced in 2020-21 (381) compared with 2019-20 (518). This is further to a reduction in 2019-20 compared with 2018-19 (934) as a result of many retailers suspending such actions (at different times during the year) to provide temporary relief for customers from the social and economic impacts of COVID-19.
Reliability performance in 2020-21
The Water Retail Code also requires retailers to use best endeavours to minimise the frequency and duration of interruptions or limitations to supply. Retailers must also have in place policies, practices and procedures in dealing with the minimisation of the impact of unplanned interruptions to retail services and provision of information about unplanned interruptions to affected customers and bursts, leaks, blockages or spills in respect of its sewerage infrastructure or water infrastructure.
In 2020-21, retailers reported 25 unplanned interruptions and 14 water mains breaks for drinking water services.
In 2020-21, retailers reported a 93 percent reduction in unplanned sewerage service interruptions (124) when compared with 2019-20 (1,689). The significant increase in unplanned sewerage interruptions in 2019-20 compared with previous years was due to the power outages in the Adelaide Hills region at the time of the Cudlee Creek bushfireon 20 December 2019.
While the Commission assesses water entities performance against annual service standards and reliability standards each year, events may occur during the year that warrant special ad hoc reporting – referred to as Significant Performance Events.
The Commission considers the following criteria in determining whether a Significant Performance Event has occurred:
- a significant number of customers are affected for a lengthy duration, or there is reason to believe that a significant number of customers may have been affected for a lengthy duration.
- the event is likely to seriously impact on the licensed entity’s ability to meet one of more of its annual service standard(s) or reliability target(s).
- the Commission needs to undertake a review to be confident that the licensed entity has complied with its obligations under the relevant industry Code(s).
- there is strong stakeholder interest, or there is anticipated to be strong stakeholder interest.
The criteria recognise that a balance needs to be struck between reporting on every event and the resources it entails, and meeting stakeholder expectations on the provision of information in such situations.
The Commission has published the following significant event report, in respect of the performance of small-scale water networks (also known minor and intermediate water retailers).