ILC ARTICLE

Water firms in U-turn over letters that use ‘scare tactics’


Water firms have been forced to review their communications and in one case even cancel a mass mail-out after a backlash from angry customers, MoneySavingExpert.com can reveal.

Letters sent to tens of thousands of households seemingly from their water company requesting an urgent response are actually from maintenance firm HomeServe, which has been accused of using “scare tactics” to flog its pipe cover. If you’ve got one of these letters, you DON’T have to respond or take out the policy – and if you already have, you can cancel for free.

HomeServe operates on behalf of 13 suppliers, including Anglian Water, Cambridge Water and South East Water, whose customers have reported receiving near-identical letters promoting its plumbing and drainage insurance. They’ve been sent out over the past few months and use headed paper with the water company’s logo. They insist on a response by a specific date and highlight that the highly discounted price will only be around for a limited time.

The letter also fails to make clear that this is an optional policy and you could already be covered for some elements under your home insurance, so you could be paying unnecessarily for cover you don’t need.

What does HomeServe and the water firms say?

After we contacted HomeServe to ask if it would review the content of its letters amid the backlash, it told us: “We constantly adapt and tailor all our marketing and we’re grateful for the feedback and the opportunity to reassure any concerns customers might have about any of our activity.

“Our intention was to let people know what their responsibility is in respect of their water supply pipe and make them aware of a completely optional service available to them to protect themselves, with a limited-time special offer.”

The water companies, which get commission for policies sold, have also taken steps to address the issue following the backlash.

  • An Anglian Water spokesperson told us: “We will review the content of the letters with HomeServe following customer concerns. We appreciate that the products do not appeal to all of our customers and they can opt out of receiving these marketing materials by visiting the Anglian Water Direct website.”
     
  • A spokesperson for Cambridge Water said: “We conducted a trial mail-out of the HomeServe marketing letters to around 33,500 (10%) of our customers earlier this year. Following customer feedback about the letters, we took the decision to cancel the trial on 7 June and no further letters have been sent out.”
     
  • South East Water told us: “We review HomeServe’s marketing materials regularly and are talking to them about how their communications can be improved, particularly on how people can opt out of receiving these letters.”

‘It smacks of hard selling’

Gary Caffell, energy and utilities editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “The way these letters were written, with the water firm’s masthead and a request to urgently respond among other things, understandably left many householders confused and smacks of hard selling.

“It’s only right that the firms concerned have listened to the negative feedback and have told us they will think more carefully in future about the content of their mail-outs.

“Remember, if you have received one or something very similar from your water company and don’t want the insurance, just bin the letter. And if you have already signed up but have now changed your mind, you can cancel.”

Source:  Money Saving Expert

"It's only right that the firms concerned have listened to the negative feedback and have told us they will think more carefully in future about the content of their mail-outs."

Gary Caffell, Utilities editor at MoneySavingExpert.com

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