Service quality regulationSQ1ADefine service quality standards and indicators for operators

Regulating service quality entails establishment of criteria that services should meet to adequately reflect consumer needs and require operator’s full comprehension and acknowledgement.

Some of these measures may include, for instance, reliability of services, quality of water delivered, interruption frequency and its duration, average time to restore the service, or the number of consumer complaints.

This non-exhaustive list, open to be customized in different circumstances, becomes an essential tool for achieving the quality of service objectives and results associated with them. Each regulator, therefore, defines and calculates a set of performance indicators, which are then published, with results being compared in the sector annual assessment report.

Expected outcomes

  • Clear and transparent sanitation and water service quality standards are measured on all service operators.
  • Different performance trends are compared.
  • Consumer associations actively participate and can access the established norms at any time.
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Objective: Define service requirements to be met by operators
Service quality regulation
Target group:
Regulators, Service operators, Consumer associations
Eastern Africa, Australia and New Zealand
Oct 13, 2022


In line with its mandate to inform the public on water supply and sanitation issues, the Zambian regulator NWASCO publishes an annual sector report on the performance and status of the sector.

This sector report also highlights the performance of providers against set sector benchmarks derived from the Minimum Service Levels guidelines.

Benchmarking induces competition among commercial units by motivating a them to improve their own previous performance and to outperform others. Eight benchmarks have been set for major indicators, as follows.

Performance Indicators and Benchmarks
Indicator Benchmark
1. Water supply and sanitation coverage 80%
2. Unaccounted for water(UfW) 25%
3. Metering ratio 100%
4. Hours of supply 18
5. Water quality 98%
6. Staff per 1,000 connections 8
7. Collection efficiency 85%
8. Cost coverage by collections 100%

In Australia, the Essential Services Commission (ESC), which is the multisector regulator in Victoria state, has adopted the following service quality indicators.

Domestic customers with instalment plans (100 costumers) Average customer interruption frequency (interruptions per customer) (number per customer)
Non-domestic customers with instalment plans (100 customers) Planned water supply customer interruptions frequency in peak hours (interruptions per customer)
Domestic restrictions for non-payment of bills (100 customers) Average duration of planned interruptions (minutes)
Non-domestic restrictions for non-payment of bills (100 customers) Average duration of unplanned interruptions (minutes)
Restrictions restored within three days (per cent, domestic only) Average customer minutes off supply (minutes)
Restrictions over 14 days (per cent, domestic only) Bursts and leaks (per 100 km of water mains)
Domestic legal actions (per 100 customers) Average response times to bursts and leaks – priority one
Non-domestic legal actions (per 100 customers) Average response times to bursts and leaks – priority two
Average debt level – restrictions (€) Average time to rectify bursts and leaks – priority one (min.)
Average debt level – legal action (€) Average time to rectify bursts and leaks – priority two (minutes)
Hardship grants and applications (per cent) Planned customer interruptions not restored within 5 hours (per cent)
Average value of hardship grants (€) Unplanned customer interruptions not restored within 5 hours (per cent)
Customer Responsiveness and Service Water losses
Average time taken to connect to an operator (seconds) Wastewater service
Calls answered within 30 seconds (per cent) Sewer blockages (per 100 km of sewer main)
Complaints received by water businesses (per cent) Customers experiencing a single sewer blockage
Water quality complaints (per cent) Sewer spills from reticulation and branch sewers (per 100 km)
Information statements processed within five days (per cent) Containment of sewer spills within 5 hours (per cent)

Internal capacities needed and the role of partners

As much as some of these norms and standards could be universally applied, tailoring them to specific contexts or shaping new ones will require internal regulatory capacities, ranging from technical water engineering skills and financial capacity for monetization of these measures, to customer relations abilities.

Whereas to a certain extent some of them could be supported by related ministries and service operators, much required capacity building and multi-stakeholder consultation around applicable standards could be supported by development partners and consumer associations.

Regulators’ staff must also be trained on basic service quality performance standards, and how to apply them in their own context.