British Waterways Complaints – Freedom of Information Reply


A couple of weeks ago I was really annoyed with British Waterways as I felt that having raised complaints about various aspects of the information they were providing to boaters during my extended winter journey, they were failing to do anything but send a standard acknowledgement while the subject of my complaint had not been rectified.

Its not that any individual event was a huge issue but when the promised response didn’t arrive within 15 working days for the third time in a row, the tone of my fourth complaint was most definitely louder than before.

When I requested these to be raised to level 2 of the complaints process, I was not surprised by receiving an almost  immediate response to two of the three older issues, plus an instant response to my latest complaint.  In fact I was pleasantly with two of them which actually left me feeling like I had raised a genuine issue which was indeed being addressed by people who cared, while the third was more defensive, most likely as a result of viewing my final comments about the stoppage at Buckby Locks in isolation rather than as the fourth factor in a row.

The reasons for failing to respond within 15 days were given as guilty – an email response had been sent back to customer services instead of to me (by the IT department!), guilty – a second identical complaint to mine had been processed the same day and my reply had been overlooked and he jury is still out about the third.

But on my angry night two weeks ago I filed a Freedom of Information request to BW to ask “How many complaints are satisfactorily handled?” and duly received my response.  I used which makes the whole process very easy.

The answer was interesting and is shown below in full.  What intrigues me about the figures quoted is that if it is true that only 363 complaints have been handled in the last 12 month period, then having written 4 times I personally represent 1.1% of all complaints during this period, and possibly  yet apart from this series I have not made a written complaint to anyone else anywhere in the last 15 years (I tell a lie – I did write to BW last year to complain that I was unable to walk safely to my boat on my BW offside mooring due to mud churned up by hundreds of dog walkers a day, but they didn’t agree that the council should be taking action to repair the path!). 

Hmmmmmh.  I wonder if these figures are produced by the same counting methods as the number of waterways users which extend into the hundreds of millions!

British Waterways Answer:

Chris Gray
British Waterways Board17 March 2010

Further to my correspondence with you of 16^th March 2010 I am responding
to your request for information regarding:

1. How many complaints did you receive in the last 12 months.

2. how many have you responded within 15 working days many are resolved to the satisfaction of the originator?

2008-2009 level 2nd level
Apr-08 31 4
May-08 47 3
Jun-08 42 7
Jul-08 48 5
Aug-08 50 9
Sep-08 40 7
Oct-08 30 5
Nov-08 20 3
Dec-08 34 3
Jan-09 25 0
Feb-09 24 4
Mar-09 26 13
417 63

2009-2010 1st level 2nd level
Apr-09 43 3
May-09 30 7
Jun-09 43 8
Jul-09 48 11
Aug-09 29 4
Sep-09 23 7
Oct-09 33 8
Nov-09 20 4
Dec-09 24 5
Jan-10 25 6
Feb-10 19 1
337 64

The number of first level complaints responded to within the 15 days from
written acknowledgement – 94% (average response time is 11 days)

The number of second level complaints responded to within the 15 days from
written acknowledgement – 39%

The number of second level complaints responded to within the 15 days from
written acknowledgement or within an extension agreed by the customer 98%
(average response time is 25 days)

Do not keep info on satisfaction but this could be gauged by the number of
complaints progressing from one stage to the next. The number of
ombudsman accepted complaints in 2008/09 was 16 and so far this year is
22. Also to date (in the financial year 2009/10) the Waterway Ombudsman
has completed 18 investigations. The Ombudsman fully upheld three of these
complaints and she found partially against British Waterways on five
occasions. Ten were not upheld.

If we haven’t reasonably met your expectations in relation to a request
for information or you believe we may not have acted in accordance with
the above legislation you should write in the first instance to Caroline
Killeavy Head of Customer Relations, 64 Clarendon Road, Watford, Herts
WD17 1DA outlining your concerns and asking for a review to be
undertaken. Your correspondence will be acknowledged and a review of your
case will be undertaken. The review is usually undertaken by a director
and you should receive a response within 15 working days.

Should you remain unsatisfied by the response you receive you are able to
contact the Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF [1]

Yours Sincerely

Chris Gray

Information Officer


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One Comment Add yours

  1. stewart craven says:

    I have tried the ombudsman, to no avail, B.W lost her initial letter and I was told this was common! My contention has been one of amasement that B.W can’t manage the waterways in any way, shape, or form. Their local management are inept and are not given any support from the debacle they call their rule book. Why no one can make 2000 miles of a leisure facility pay there is something very wrong. Make all boaters pay a fare rate (continues cruisers). Stop making excuses why you can’t get the rubish of the canals. Stop hitting the paying boaters and get rid of the dross! The B.W. civil service brigade can’t run a bath so hand the waterways over to the private sector. Either that or start listening to boaters. A ten year live aboard boater (paying)

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