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Posted: 19/01/17

England-wide customer survey marks start of countdown

It is just ten weeks until the biggest shake up of the water industry since privatisation. 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? Today sees the publication of a significant England-wide survey into customer awareness and attitudes towards the new market. The survey, commissioned by the water regulator, Ofwat shows that only one-third of businesses are currently aware they can switch supplier but just over 50% of those surveyed said they will consider switching as soon as the market opens.

Cathryn Ross, Ofwat Chief Executive says:

“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. It’s for these reasons Ofwat is working with partners and the water sector to launch an important awareness campaign next week.”

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.
  • In terms of awareness among different sectors, organisations in the construction, retail, financial and insurance and public administration and defence sectors were significantly less likely to be aware of upcoming changes to the water retail market.


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