Business customer protection code of practice

From April 2017, 1.2 million eligible business, charity and public sector customers mainly in England have been able to shop around for their water and wastewater retailer. You can find out more about the market, the benefits and if you are eligible at open-water.org.uk.

One of the ways you are protected in the new market is that all retailers must follow rules we set on how they treat you (the ‘Business customer code of practice’). If your retailer is represented by a third party – like a consultant or comparison website – they also need to comply with the rules.

Please see below the code protects you. You can also view our full Code of Practice here.

Overall service

In dealing with you all retailers must:

  • fair, transparent and honest
  • Put you and other customers at the heart of their business
  • use plain and clear language in communicating with you
  • provide you with appropriate and timely information to enable you to make informed choices
  • give you information that is complete, accurate and not misleading
  • respond to you in an appropriate and timely manner
  • have accessible and effective customer services

Sales and marketing

Basic information

If you are a micro-business (fewer than 10 employees) a retailer must provide you with some basic information. They have to do this before they switch your account or agree terms and conditions with you.

  • Details of applicable prices, charges and/or tariffs they offer to you. This includes whether or not they are inclusive of all costs and taxes and any assumptions underlying the proposed prices, charges and/or tariffs.
  • Service levels they include in your contract (the ‘Terms and Conditions of Supply’).
  • The type, frequency of bills and payment methods available to you.
  • The length of the contract being offered. This includes any expiry date.
  • Contact details of the retailer (including full name, address and a non-premium rate telephone number).
  • Any rights that you have to cancel the contract cost free.
  • Any rights that you have to cancel or terminate the contract that would incur costs or fees. This includes details of the costs or fees and the notice period you have to give.

Cooling off period

You have a cooling off period of seven days before your switch goes ahead. In most cases, this will be cost free for you to cancel.

Third parties acting for retailers

If a third party is acting on your behalf, your retailer will need written confirmation from yourself – known as a letter of authority  – confirming that:

  • the named third party is acting on your behalf;
  • the extent of the third party’s authority; and
  • how the third party’s fees are being paid.

If you are a micro-business, the written confirmation needs to be provided in this template letter.

Contracts

Retailers must be transparent with you about the terms and conditions in your contract and about any changes to them. This includes tariffs, bill frequency, and other services they offer.

If your retailer sends you terms and conditions in writing, this needs to be in plain and clear language.

If your contract is due to expire, your retailer must write to you at least 30 calendar days before the expiry date. They have to tell you:

  • that your contract is expiring and when;
  • whether you can renew your contract with the same terms – and how
  • other contract options available from the same Retailer (if any). This includes their current charges and if you are on the cheapest deal available.

Your retailer should tell you about:

  • your right to formally dispute the money you owe under your contract
  • how to make a complaint
  • the deadline you have to make a complaint
  • if a reasonable payment plan for any outstanding debt is available
  • what will happen if you fail to pay or raise a dispute? In particular, that they can prevent you from switching to a new retailer until the debt is paid.

Extra protection for micro-businesses

If you are a micro business (fewer than 10 employees):

  • Where your retailer changes your contract, they must give you some minimum information (see ‘Sales and marketing’) as soon as reasonably practicable after they make the change.
  • If you request to receive any information in writing from your retailer, they must provide it as soon as reasonably practical
  • If you renew your contract at expiry, your retailer must give you some minimum information (see ‘Sales and marketing’) as soon as reasonably practicable after they make the change.

Switching

Your new retailer must have a valid contract with you before they request to switch you.

If your current retailer cancels your switch they must write to you to explain why.

Bills

Your retailer must:

  • include certain basic information in every bill they send to you
  • send you least one accurate bill, or invoice each year – and is based on an actual meter reading where you have a water meter.

Retailers can choose to accept meter readings from you. This includes where you give them a final meter reading before you switch.

You should not receive a bill for any period beyond 16 months.

If you are a micro business (fewer than 10 employees) your retailer should:

  • send you a final bill within six weeks of switching or the expiry of your contract
  • offer you a reasonable repayment plan for any outstanding debt.

Complaints

Your retailer must have an effective complaints handling process that you can access at no cost. They must use this process for every complaint they receive.

Your retailer must also have in place or participate in an effective alternative complaint process (redress scheme) that is readily accessible to you.

Your retailer’s complaint handling process must:

  • be in plain and clear language;
  • allow you to make a complaint orally and/or in writing;
  • describe the steps your retailer will take with a view to investigating and resolving your complaint and the timescales within which each step is expected to be completed;
  • describe any remedies available to you to resolve a complaint. Such remedies must include but are not required to be limited to:
    • an apology;
    • an explanation;
    • remedial action; and
    • compensation where remedial action is not possible or is insufficient to deal with the complaint; and
  • describe any right you have to refer the complaint to a redress scheme.

Code Modification and Governance arrangements

Ofwat, any retailer and other appropriate person can propose a change to the Customer Protection Code of Practice. The Code itself sets out the process and governance arrangements for doing this. Proposals can be submitted by email to [email protected], using our Customer Protection Code Change Proposal form, which you can view here.

To enable us to consider a Change Proposal we require the following information, in reasonable but not excessive detail;

  • the name of the person or persons proposing the proposal;
  • a description of the enhancement, issue or defect which it seeks to address;
  • the proposed drafting of the change to the Code;
  • a description of the change proposed, its nature and purpose and the likely impact of the change on Retailers and Non-Household Customers, including confirmation of how it is consistent with the Code Principles;
  • whether the proposal is considered urgent and, if so, why; and
  • a description of any consultation carried out or supporting evidence gathered in advance of submitting the proposal.

We will consider Change Proposals submitted to us in line with the requirements set out in chapter 5 of the Customer Protection Code of Practice. We will consult on our proposed decisions to accept, reject or amend each Customer Protection Code Change Proposal for a proportionate period of time taking into account its complexity, importance and urgency. Except in the case of urgency, the consultation period will generally be for a minimum of 28 calendar days.