Welcome to the March 2016 edition of On the Case, which looks at issues affecting your water and wastewater services, and how we protect you. In this issue you can find out more about the support available for customers struggling with their bills and how we are taking action to support greater choice for developers in choosing who installs their pipework. You can also find more information on the review Ofwat is doing for Government on the benefits of allowing households to choose their supplier, and where to get the latest news on our work to allow businesses to choose their supplier from April 2017. Finally, you can tell us what you think of On the Case, to make sure each issue covers what matters to you and other customers.
New bills from April 2016, speak to your company for support
Ofwat has called for water companies to do more to help customers struggling to pay their bill – after water companies announced that household bills are set to increase across England and Wales from April 2016 by an average of around £2 per year.
So what should customers do if they’re struggling to pay their bill – or know of someone who is having problems?
“The most important thing is to speak to your water company first. There are a range of ways that they can help – from cutting your bill to helping you better understand it. But they can’t help you unless you tell them first”, explains Brigitte Gaylor from Ofwat.
But what happens if you can’t get any help or are unhappy with your bill?
“Ask for a senior manager from the company to look at your case. If you are still unhappy after speaking to them, contact the Consumer Council of Water. They can give you independent advice and (if you prefer) speak to the company for you. Ofwat does not generally deal with individual billing complaints”, advises Brigitte.
Ofwat action to help support more choice for developers
Ofwat is taking action to help avoid disputes where developers and other customers choose their own contractor to install water pipework. We will be publishing our general expectations for the terms that water companies can reasonably demand from contractors to prove (‘assure’) they have done a good job.
Getting your property connected for water and wastewater supplies is one of the few areas in water and wastewater services where customers in England and Wales can choose their supplier. So how will the new general expectations of what can be considered reasonable assurance terms help?
“We often get asked to decide on disputes that involve the requirements that water companies place on independent contractors – called self-lay organisations (SLOs) – to prove they have done a good job”, explains Sally Irgin from Ofwat.
“SLOs will often feel that water companies are putting in overly burdensome requirements, that these are unnecessary, and that this can prevent them from doing business. But equally, water companies want protection from the risk that contractors’ work is not good enough and may pose risks to the safety or security of water supplies for customers. Our expectations will balance these concerns and may help SLOs and companies avoid disputes. This in turn will support customers’ choice in this important market,” she said.
News in brief
Ofwat asked to look at costs and benefits of allowing households to choose their supplier
The UK Government has asked Ofwat to look at the costs and benefits of allowing households in England to choose their water and wastewater supplier. We will report on this by summer 2016 and the UK Government will then decide whether to take steps to implement the change – which would then need to be debated and agreed by the UK Parliament as it will require a change in the law. You can find more information about our review of extending retail competition to households on our website.
Choosing your business supplier from April 2017 – latest news
Currently only a limited category of non-household customers (those who use over a threshold amount) can choose their water supplier and there is no ability for them to choose their wastewater services provider. From April 2017, 1.2 million businesses and other non-household customers mainly in England will be able to enjoy a range of benefits from being able to choose their water and wastewater service retailer. Retail services include things like meter-reading, billing and customer services. From April 2016, new retailers wanting to supply retail services will be able to apply to Ofwat for a water supply and sewerage licence (“WSSL”). You can sign up to receive email alerts with the latest news on opening the market at www.open-water.org.uk. We consulted on our WSSL application guidance throughout February 2016, and will shortly publish a final guidance document.
Companies reminded of their obligations to allow fair competition
- Ofwat has reminded water companies to stick to rules that support fair competition. This includes maintaining a document (‘code’) that sets out how they are complying with condition R of their licence, which sets out their obligations with regards to arm’s length trading and information sharing. Companies’ compliance with the code will be particularly important for maintaining confidence in the market when non-household customers in England are able to choose their supplier from April 2017. Fair competition will encourage companies to compete within the market and provide the best choice and range of opportunities for customers.
Tell us what you think of On the Case
On the Case is aimed at customers of water and wastewater services in England and Wales. But we know a lot of other people read it too – companies, customer representatives, environmental groups and many more. So we would be grateful if you could answer a few questions on what you think by taking our survey. It will only take 5-10 minutes of your time and will help us give you the information you want.