On the Case – Spring 2017 – issue 8

Welcome to the Spring 2017 edition of On the Case, which looks at issues affecting your water and wastewater services, and how we protect you.

Portland Bill lighthouse
Portland Bill lighthouse © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Savings and better services on offer as market opens for businesses in England

Businesses and other non-household customers in England can now save money and water by shopping around for a different water and wastewater retailer.

On 1 April, the business retail water market in England opened. If you are a business, charity or public sector organisation you could:

  • renegotiate with your existing retailer;
  • shop around for a better deal from other available retailers;
  • apply for a licence to supply yourself.

The market means you are free to choose an available price and service that best matches your needs. You could benefit from:

  • lower bills and charges;
  • improved customer service;
  • tailored services for your company – such as consolidated billing; and
  • help with becoming a more water efficient business.

Speaking about the market opening, Ofwat’s Senior Director of Market Outcomes and Enforcement, Richard Khaldi, said:

“This is a really exciting development for businesses and other organisations across England. The market could deliver a range of benefits to customers, the economy and the environment”.

So what benefits could individual customers get?

“For small and medium sized businesses you could get water efficiency and benchmarking advice to reduce your usage and cut costs. For national businesses, you could significantly cut your administration costs by getting a single bill – rather than multiple bills across all your sites and having to deal with a number of different companies. The choice is yours”, explains Richard.

Find out more about the market and if you are eligible to choose your supplier at open-water.org.uk.

How will business customers be protected in the new retail water market?

Couple on bench hotblack (morgueFile)

With the new market now open, eligible business customers in England can shop around and get a range of benefits. But how will those customers be protected in the new market?

“The market can deliver a range of benefits to customers. But we know some customers will be wary of the new market based on their experience in other markets. So we set up the business retail water market in a way that learns lessons from elsewhere”, explains Sally Irgin, Associate Director at Ofwat.

Like what?

“For example, we know that some customers will choose not to switch their retailer straight away because in energy customers that did so suffered by remaining on standard variable tariffs. So in water, customers will get a time-limited default tariff from their existing supplier so they do not lose out”, answers Sally.

So what will Ofwat be doing now the market is open?

“We will be watching the market closely, getting information from a variety of sources. This will enable us to make a judgement on how the market is performing and will help us decide if we need to step in to sort out any problems”, responds Sally.

And if there are problems what can Ofwat do?

“It depends. It could be anything from speaking directly to companies to change how they are behaving – to investigating companies, fining them or taking away their licence. We have a number of tools we can use to make sure the market works for customers”, says Sally.

Hot topic – Where can I find available retailers in the business retail water market?

Signposts doberman blank (morgueFile)

Every company that is licensed in the market is listed on Ofwat’s website. Their contact details are also available on our Open Water website. Open Water gives you more information about the market and the options available. For example, you don’t have to switch – but could renegotiate your price and service with your existing supplier. You can also get licensed by Ofwat to supply yourself with retail services.

News in brief

Help someone struggling to pay their bill or needing help using water or wastewater services

If you know someone that is struggling to pay their bill or needing help using their water and wastewater services, you can help them. All monopoly water companies offer special help for people that struggle to pay their bill, such as special tariffs to reduce bills or help to clear debts. Companies are also obliged to offer certain services to customers in vulnerable circumstances – and we are encouraging companies to do more. Tell your friend or family member about these schemes and encourage them to contact their water company. There is also help available for other essential services. If they want you to speak to the company for them, you may need to give the company proof that you have the other person’s permission.

Blowing the whistle in the water sector

If you work for a water company or one of their contractors and you see or hear something improper happening, you can report it without suffering any detriment (losing your job or being treated unfairly). Examples of improper conduct would be any criminal action or risk or actual damage to the environment. Each water company should have a whistleblowing policy that you should use first. This allows the company to investigate and take appropriate action. If there isn’t a whistleblowing policy where you work or if you don’t feel able to use that policy (for whatever reason), you can contact us using the details on our website.

Customer service improved, thanks to our intervention

Severn Trent Water has overhauled its complaints system after we intervened in a longstanding complaint about a sewer in Bamford, Derbyshire. The case highlighted some important lessons for all companies. That includes that companies should adequately investigate all customers’ complaints – and provide them with a swift resolution within an appropriate timeframe. We contacted all companies to highlight the case and the lessons they can learn from it. If you are unhappy with your company or have a dispute with them, our easy to follow guide shows you what to do next.

An important reminder of companies’ obligations if they work on your land

In a recent case we awarded a customer £375 following their complaint against Welsh Water for work the company carried out on the customer’s land. The case is an important reminder to companies about their responsibilities in working on your land. Water companies have the power to lay, inspect, maintain and repair or alter any pipes in private land. This power is exceptional and very few companies or bodies outside of the utility industry are permitted to do this. It is a power that must be exercised reasonably as customers can perceive it as being invasive. Companies may only use their powers after giving you reasonable notice.

Getting a new water connection? What you need to know if you have a complaint

If you are the owner, or occupier, of a property you are entitled to ask your water company to provide a connection to a company water main for domestic purposes. Your water company is entitled to recover the reasonable costs of making the connection from you. We are sometimes asked to make a decision in disputes about these costs. We have recently updated the costs we use as a guide in reaching our decisions. You can use this guide and our decisions in similar cases to help you assess whether the costs you have been charged are reasonable. If you think they are not, speak to your company. If you cannot reach agreement with the company on the costs, you can also make a complaint to us.

Getting you a better deal where companies get things wrong

If water companies get things wrong, they should put things right for you as quickly as possible. If they have broken the law or not complied with their licence conditions, we can investigate and could fine them. However, fining a company may not immediately benefit affected customers. So now, under our new policy, where companies own up to breaking the rules and put things right (such as offering compensation or investing their own money to improve services), we may decide not to take formal action against them. We call this ‘settlement’. We will only agree to settle a case with a company if it has some benefit for customers.

Useful links

Feedback

Do you have any comments on this issue of On the Case? Send your feedback to onthecase@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk.