Open for business: Reviewing the first year of the business retail water market

More than 1.2 million businesses, charities and public sector bodies in England and Wales have been able to choose their supplier of water and wastewater retail services since the market opened on 1 April 2017.

Our Open for Business report assesses the state of the business retail market after its first year. We analyse how the market has developed, the extent to which it is delivering for customers and the issues we have identified that may have impeded the development of competition and better customer outcomes.


  • About 10% of eligible customers have actively made a choice in the market – either by switching supplier, renegotiating with their existing supplier or simply exploring their options.
  • We have seen about £8 million in bill savings collectively in the first year of the new market, as well as other benefits such as simplified billing and reduced water consumption.
  • We have seen enthusiastic uptake among larger companies of the new option to self-supply their own water services.
  • While many customers have benefited from market opening, it is also true that many customers – particularly smaller customers, have found it difficult or have not seen it as worthwhile to engage in the market.

Areas for attention

While it is now firmly off the ground, there are still a number of areas where attention is needed to ensure we have an efficient and effective business retail water market in which customers feel able and motivated to participate.

  • A clear relationship between retailers and wholesalers is key to a well-functioning business retail water market. We have however, seen numerous examples of poor communication between wholesalers and retailers, which in turn can lead to confusion and frustration for customers. In particular, wholesalers have clear room for improvement in facilitating retailers to provide customers with high quality services.
  • The quality of data produced and used by wholesalers and retailers has a direct impact on retailers’ ability to identify customers and on the quality of services customers receive, such as timely and accurate billing. Wholesalers, retailers and the market operator MOSL have a crucial role to play in ensuring high quality data, which can be shared in an effective and timely manner.
  • Small businesses are starting to engage with the market, but many have yet to do so for a variety of reasons, including lack of awareness of what is on offer. Enabling the market to work better will encourage retailers to reach out to these customers to help them understand the market and the opportunities it can provide.

Customer insight survey

The priorities, views and experiences of customers are essential in understanding whether, and how, the market is functioning effectively and delivering for customers. One of the ways we sought to understand this is through surveying a representative sample of eligible customers. We appointed Opinion Research Services to carry out this research for us.