At home, most people in England and Wales receive their water and wastewater services and bills from regulated water companies. As a household customer, you cannot switch the licensed water company serving your geographical area in the way that you can for things like electricity and mobile phones.
There are other unlicensed people and businesses that might offer to sell you water and wastewater services. We call them ‘billing agents’.
What are billing agents?
Billing agents are people or businesses that offer to sell you water and wastewater services ‒ but are not water companies.
Billing agents may:
- offer to pay your water bill for you
- promise to help you save money on your water bill
- offer to help you get money back that you have already paid your water company
They may offer to sell you their services by:
- phoning you at home
- knocking on your door
- advertising in the newspaper or on the internet
They will charge you money for their services.
We do not normally check:
- who they are
- what they give you
- how much they charge
Like any business, there are laws covering what billing agents can do. If they break these laws, Ofwat will work with other enforcement organisations to take action to prevent this happening in future.
This page tells you the good and bad things about using billing agents. We also tell you about the services you can get yourself for free from your water company. And we tell you what you can do if you have any problems.
What services can billing agents offer me?
- Talking to your water company to get you a better service
A billing agent may offer to talk to your water company for you. They may also offer:
- for you to pay them instead of your water company
- to help you make easier payments towards your bill. For example, they may let you pay every week or at other times that suit you.
- Reducing your bills
A billing agent may offer to contact your water company to help you get a lower bill. Sometimes they may even promise to reduce your bill by a certain amount, or to freeze your bill for some time.
Some billing agents may offer very large discounts on your water bill without explaining how they will reduce the amount you owe your water company. So you should get advice from someone you trust before agreeing to do anything.
- Getting you a ‘surface water drainage rebate’
A ‘surface water drainage rebate’ is a reduction of money, and in some cases a refund of money already paid, from their water company where they can show that they have significantly reduced the volume of surface water draining from their premises to a public sewer, or that no surface water drains from their premises to the public sewer. You need to apply to your water company to do this. You may need to fill in a form. But a billing agent may offer to do this for you. And you cannot get a greater reduction or more money back by using a billing agent than you would if you asked your water company yourself.
- Getting money from your water company for bad service
Your water company must make payments to its customers if it fails to meet set standards of service. These are known as ‘guaranteed service standards’, or ‘GSS’. Your water company is meant to know when it has failed to meet these standards and refund you the money it owes you by way of credit to your account without you needing to ask for it.
A billing agent may tell you they can get you more money from your water company than you could get yourself. This is not correct.
- Switching you to a cheaper water company
At the moment, it is not possible for you to choose which water company can supply your home, like you can for your gas or electricity. So you should ignore anyone that says they can get you a cheaper water or wastewater supplier. This not correct.
What are the good and bad things about using billing agent services?
Some people may not like dealing with big businesses like water companies. Others think it will be easier to let someone else do it for them.
That is why billing agents offer their services.
It is up to you whether you use a billing agent or not. We do not normally check:
- who billing agents are
- how good their services are
- if they are charging too much money
The billing agent will charge you money for providing their services. They may ask you to pay them:
- money before you get anything, or
- extra money on top of your normal water bill
So you should be careful in choosing to use their services, just like you would be in buying anything or dealing with strangers.
For example, you should check anything you sign carefully to make sure you are happy with what you are agreeing to. Also, you should be careful about handing over money or providing your bank details.
If you are unsure about using a billing agent, you should ask them to give you information about:
- what their service is
- what you will pay
- how you will pay them
You can use this information to get advice about the billing agent from someone you trust. You can then decide whether you want to contact the billing agent again.
Some billing agents may put you under pressure to agree to have their service straight away. For example, they might refuse to leave your home until you have agreed to use their service. High-pressure selling is against the law. You can get more advice about this – and what to do if someone uses these techniques – from Citizens Advice.
Can billing agents do things I can’t do myself?
They will contact your water company in the same way you can. And your water company will offer the same services or discounts to your bill whether you contact them or a billing agent does.
Can I ask someone I trust to act on my behalf with my water company?
Your water company can advise you on how you do this. It will need to make sure people asking for this service are genuine and are not strangers trying to commit fraud using your account.
Your water company should only pass information about your account to another person if you agree to let them. It will tell you the options you can choose from to do this. Legally, your water company has to be very careful with the information it has about you.
Does Ofwat approve any billing agent services?
We do not approve, guarantee or endorse any individuals or businesses. If anyone says that we do, please contact us as soon as possible and give us their details.
Does my water company approve any billing agent services?
Your water company may send you details of products and services from selected billing agents. But you should treat this with the same care as you would with any adverts you receive. You should also check with your water company to see if it really recommends a billing agent. Some billing agents may be lying about a water company recommending them.
In choosing to buy any goods or services, you should shop around and get advice if you think you need it. Citizens Advice is a good place to start.
Where to go for advice and help
What should I do if I have a problem with a billing agent?
Like any business, billing agents have laws that they must follow to protect consumers. They can be prosecuted if they do not.
You can get free advice from Citizens Advice. Other charities may also be able to give you help and advice. And they can help if you have an argument with your billing agent by, for example, speaking to the billing agent for you.
If your billing agent owes money to you and is not giving it back, you can use the small claims court to try to get your money back. You may also wish to get your own legal advice. But you will need to pay for these services.
What should I do if my billing agent goes out of business?
If you are using a billing agent that is going out of business (it is ‘wound up’) and owes you money, the Insolvency Service can provide information on what happens next.
Your billing agent may have been paying your water company for you. If so, you should check with your water company if it has received this money. If it has not, then it will ask you to pay. If you do not pay, it may take steps to get money from you – like using debt collection agencies.
If you cannot get all of your money back from the billing agent, you should discuss this with your water company. It may be able to help you make it easier to repay money you owe over time. One way your water company could do this is to ask you to pay extra on top of your normal water bill.