Raising awareness of the new retail water market

A national awareness campaign is underway to help businesses, charities and public sector organisations in England have a better understanding and awareness of the new water retail market, ahead of market opening on the 1st April.

The campaign is funded by the water companies and overseen by Water UK. It primarily uses online and digital channels to reach small to medium sized businesses.

From 1 April, all 1.2 million eligible businesses, charities and public sector organisations across England – from the smallest corner shop or charity to the largest corporate will be able to choose the water retailer that best suits their needs.

The change will create the largest competitive water market in the world, with an estimated benefit to the UK of £200 million.

So how interested or informed are those customers? A significant England-wide survey into customer awareness and attitudes towards the new market, commissioned by the water regulator, Ofwat in early 2017 showed that only one-third of businesses were aware they can switch supplier. Just over 50% of those surveyed said they will consider switching as soon as the market opens.

Cathryn Ross, Ofwat Chief Executive said:

“Eligible customers – whether they are a hospital, local council, florist, factory or farmer – can, for the first time, choose the water services supplier to suit their needs.

“This is a real opportunity for these customers but first they need to know more about the new market. Then they can use that knowledge to make an informed choice.”

The campaign, aimed primarily at small to medium sized businesses, is being funded by the body that represents water companies, Water UK.

Michael Roberts, Water UK’s Chief Executive says:

“Water companies have worked very hard to prepare for market opening and have played a key role in getting the whole sector ready.

“The survey suggests that both awareness among customers is increasing and that there is more to do to inform each part of the market. Our aim for the campaign is to encourage smaller businesses to find out more about the choices that they will have.”

Results from the survey include:

  • Just over half of those surveyed said they would consider changing the supplier of their water and wastewater within the first few months. The main attraction for switching would be potential cost savings.
  • There is a need for more information on tariffs available and a list of available suppliers to increase people’s awareness of the choices they can make.
  • Most participants suggested that a single competitive market would reduce costs and improve standards and therefore be of benefit to businesses.
  • It was recognised that businesses with premises in multiple water company areas could be billed by one supplier after the changes come into effect, thus reducing internal administrative costs and water bills.
  • When asked, most participants said that they would prefer to re-negotiate with their existing water and waste water suppliers in an attempt to reduce costs while maintaining a familiar and satisfactory level of service.
  • Many participants said access to online services to pay their bills and smart meters to monitor their water usage or identify leaks would be of benefit. Advice on reducing water consumption or recycling waste and/or rain water to reduce costs and protect the environment would also be welcomed by many.