By Yadarisa Shabong
(Reuters) -Britain's largest water company Thames Water has agreed to pay compensation totalling more than 11 million pounds ($15 million) to nearly 14,000 business customers for incorrect billing, the UK's water regulator said on Thursday.
Ofwat launched an investigation into Thames Water, which serves 15 million customers across London and the Thames Valley, after a complaint in March 2019 that raised concerns about the way the company handled data, particularly around market-oriented measures introduced in England in April 2017.
The measures meant 1.2 million businesses, charities and public sector organisations were no longer restricted to buying water services from their regional monopoly, but the regulator found errors in the way Thames Water handled its data at this time.
Ofwat said Thames had transferred inaccurate information about non-household customers into its core IT system ahead of the market opening, which resulted in customers being sent the wrong bills.
"Our investigation uncovered a multitude of errors with the way in which Thames Water handled its data before and after market opening," Ofwat Senior Director Emma Kelso said.
The regulator said the errors had in particular hurt water retailers - via which Thames serves end-user business and other clients - who faced an increase in costs and in some cases even lost customers as a result of being blamed for problems.
Thames Water has proposed a series of undertakings, including strengthening its internal processes and controls over how it handles market data and complaints, Ofwat said.
The regulator added that it was planning to accept the undertakings and compensation package offered by the company, and issue a nominal penalty of one pound.
Thames Water Retail Director Warren Buckley said in an emailed statement the utility welcomed Ofwat's proposed decision and that it had made "good progress" to improve its controls and how it manages complaints.
"We also recognise the accuracy of some of the data we introduced into the market when it opened in 2017 could have been better, and we are working hard to rectify these issues as part of our turnaround plan," Buckley said.
($1 = 0.7318 pounds)
(Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Aditi Sebastian in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and David Holmes)