Information on the water industry and Coronavirus (Covid-19)

In these challenging times, we remain committed to supporting the water sector and ensuring customers, particularly those who are most vulnerable, receive reliable water and wastewater services.

We remain in close contact with water companies on the water industry’s response to Covid-19. We have also published a joint report with Water UK – the industry representative body – examining the potential impact of COVID-19 on the water sector

Here, you can find advice and answers to questions you may have on your water supply and wastewater management during the outbreak. We will continue to update this page.

Information for residential customers

If you are worried about paying a bill as a result of the impact of Covid-19

If you are concerned about your ability to pay your water bill because of the impact of Covid-19 on your health or job, or you have a general complaint about your water company, you should contact them in the first instance for help or to discuss it. Water UK has published some helpful guidance on this, including how to find out who your water is supplied by.

All water companies provide a range of support to customers, some aimed at customers in vulnerable circumstances, both long-term and short-term, and some for all customers at any time.

We expect companies to:

  • consider schemes such as payment holidays and payment matching.
  • continue to help customers pay their bills through WaterSure, social tariffs and other affordability schemes.
  • continue to keep in close contact with their customers to make sure their customers are aware that such schemes are available in the event that someone is struggling to pay their bills.

If you remain unhappy with your response from your water company, please contact CCW, the statutory consumer body for the water sector in England and Wales, who will be able to offer further assistance and advice.

Make an enquiry or complaint on 0300 034 2222 (for customers in England) / 0300 034 3333 (for customers in Wales)

If you are concerned about the quality of your drinking water

Tap water remains perfectly safe to drink and there is no risk of contracting the virus through it. More information on how drinking water is treated can be found from the Drinking Water Inspectorate.

Information for business customers

Many businesses will have reduced their commercial activities or temporarily closed in the face of measures to combat the Covid-19. Support is available to business customers who may be struggling to pay their water and wastewater bills.

In the first instance, you should contact your retailer. All retailers are required to offer eligible customers a ‘Covid-19 Repayment Scheme’ to enable customers to pay what they are able to afford over an agreed timescale.

More advice for business customers impacted by Covid-19 restrictions is available on the Consumer Council for Water website.

In some cases, business customers will be using less water, for example if they are closed, and will want to ensure their bills accurately reflect this. The best way to do this is through your retailer obtaining an up-to-date meter read.

The Covid-19 restrictions do not ban meter reading activities (see government guidance for outdoor work and for working in other people’s houses which also includes safety guidance for employers) and these continue to be the responsibility of retailers. In some cases retailers are continuing to obtain meter reads to ensure customers’ bills accurately reflect correct levels of consumption. In other cases, retailers are reporting challenges in obtaining accurate meter reads or engaging with their customers, for example, where business premises have completely closed.

Where an accurate meter read cannot be obtained by the retailer, an estimate can be used. Business customers can help ensure these estimates – and their bills – are accurate. For example:

  • Where customers are willing and can safely access their premises and obtain an up-to-date meter read, we would encourage customers to share this data with their retailer.
  • Where a meter cannot be safely accessed or read, we would encourage customers to contact their retailer to explain what activities (if any) are ongoing at a site. This information should help a retailer calculate a more accurate estimate of consumption.

Information for wholesalers and retailers in the business retail market

The impacts of Covid-19 are still being felt across the whole of the UK economy. Government and regulators have been acting together to support businesses through this period.

In the water business retail market, Ofwat has worked closely with the market operator (MOSL), CCW and industry to take action to protect the interests of business customers, including from the risk of systemic retailer failure.

First national lockdown – March 2020

As a result of the first nationwide lockdown announced in March 2020, demand for water in the non-household sector was expected to fall sharply. We were aware that such reductions would not be immediately apparent to wholesalers and retailers because, for example, settlement volumes may have been on the basis of historical ‘business as usual’ forecasts of water usage. Without other measures, this could have resulted in charges by wholesalers to retailers, and retailers to business customers, not reflecting significantly reduced levels of consumption.

Working with MOSL, CCW and industry, we took a number of steps to protect the interests of business customers in the water sector during the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown. This included temporary sector-specific liquidity support, the aim of which was to provide retailers with time to establish what other support – including Government support – they could gain access to.

Second national lockdown – November 2020

On 5 November 2020 a second lockdown in England was introduced by the Government, in an attempt to stem the further spread of Covid-19. On 4 November Ofwat and MOSL published a joint statement setting out our planned approach in response to the second national lockdown.

On 12 November 2020 Ofwat and CCW also published a joint statement setting out Ofwat and CCW’s joint expectations of retailers in their approach to ensuring customers are treated fairly, including in relation to pursuing disconnection or legal action against business customers affected by Covid-19 measures.

Main steps to protect business customers during Covid-19

In summary, the main steps we have taken to protect the interests of business customers in light of the challenges raised by Covid-19 include the following.

Customer protection code of practice (CPCoP)

  • We consulted on, and made changes to, the CPCoP on 8 April 2020 (CP0006) and then again on 1 June 2020 (CP0007) to ensure that business customers affected by Covid-19 were provided with additional support as appropriate. Retailers are required to offer business customers affected by Covid-19 with a repayment plans tailored to the needs of the individual customer.
  • On 16 December 2020 we made further changes to the CPCoP (CP0009) that clarify the expectations of retailers in terms of promoting and signing up customers to Covid-19 repayment schemes where appropriate. The changes aim to ensure that retailers take reasonable steps to maintain contact with customers on Covid-19 repayment schemes to understand their circumstances and tailor their plans before any kind of debt collection action is pursued. This requirement will remain in place until 31 July 2021.

Liquidity support

  • Retailers could defer payment of up to 40% of primary charges due to wholesalers between March 2020 and October 2020. The total amount any one retailer could defer was subject to a cap equal to 40% of primary charges due from March-July 2020.
  • Deferred primary charges need to be repaid in full by end March 2021 and subject to this, retailers and wholesalers can agree their own repayment profiles. In the absence of reaching an agreement, retailers should have repaid:
    • 33% of outstanding deferred income at 31 October by end of November 2020
    • 66% by end of January 2021
    • 100% by 31 March 2021

Temporary vacancy flag

  • From March 2020 retailers could mark a premises as temporarily vacant (making it exempt from fixed and in some cases volumetric charges), if a premises was completely shut or activities at the premises had fallen by at least 95% due to the first lockdown. The intention of this Code change was to ensure that business customers’ bills more accurately reflected reduced levels of consumption where businesses were temporarily closed, due to Covid-19. The Code change effectively provided retailers with a workable proxy to identify reductions in consumption of 95% or more, in circumstances where there were significant challenges to obtaining accurate meter reads.
  • The temporary vacancy flag policy expired on 31 July 2020 and retailers were required to remove these flags from the Central Market Operating System (CMOS) by end September 2020.
  • In the event of reduced consumption or local lockdowns, we suggest retailers seek to obtain meter reads to reflect actual consumption in the market, or where a meter read cannot be obtained, the retailer should engage with the customer to obtain an accurate estimate of consumption.
  • Ofwat, MOSL and CCW have formed a COVID Transition Review Group that is scrutinising the data, analysis and insight available to assess the progress of the market as it transitions out of temporary vacancy measures.

Market performance charges

  • Market performance charges were suspended until the end of July 2020.
  • We have now extended the suspension of these charges until end December 2020.
  • We have extended the suspension on Market Performance Standards charges only until the end of March 2021. Operational Performance Standards charges resumed from 1 January 2021.

Bad debt

  • In April 2020 we committed to monitor the level of additional bad debt emerging in the business retail market following the introduction of Covid-19 measures.
  • If it looks like bad debt across the market is likely to exceed 2% of turnover, we committed to provide regulatory protections for a portion (but not all) of this additional exposure.
  • On 30 November we published a Call for Inputs seeking views on our approach to assessing whether and how revisions to regulatory protections may be warranted in the business retail market in respect of risks of elevated customer bad debt resulting from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • On 5 March we published a consultation on bad debt setting out our recommendations in relation to: whether the threshold for additional regulatory protections is likely to be met; and the timing and design of additional regulatory protections. The deadline for responding is 6 April 2021.
  • On May 4 2021, following our March consultation on business customer bad debt in the business retail market, we confirmed (in the event that the 2% threshold for additional regulatory protection is met) that we will amend regulatory protections. This will help retailers begin the recovery of a portion of excess bad debt costs from business customers, starting from April 2022.
  • On 26 July 2021, following the consultation in March 2021 on the business retail market and customer bad debt, we published a document setting out our decisions concerning the 2% threshold, the form of regulatory protection, and the sharing parameters and the steps we plan to implement our decisions. It also sets out further consultation questions which seek views concerning ‘pooling’, and the question of the ‘true up’ and approach to ‘true up’.

Third national lockdown – January 2021

On 28 January 2021 Ofwat and MOSL published a joint statement setting out our planned approach in response to the third national lockdown, which was announced on 4 January 2021.