Customers’ experiences of the retail water market in England

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We have released the first in-depth qualitative research of business customers’ experiences since the opening of the retail water market in England in April 2017.

The Water Watchdog asked more than 70 participants about their perceptions of the water market, their level of engagement with it and their satisfaction with the service they had received from retailers and wholesalers.

The key findings include:

SMEs: Feedback suggests that small businesses may need more help understanding and accessing the potential benefits of the retail water market before they take the plunge.  The main motivator for engagement, which could be either through switching or negotiating, was to save money. But SMEs perceived a lack of interest from retailers and therefore were not readily accessing those services, like online account management, water efficiency measures and bundled utility services. SMEs in our sample that had switched retailer had relied on support from brokers and found the process much smoother than they had expected.

Larger businesses: had a better grasp than SMEs of what’s on offer and which retailers were operating in the market. But they were keen to see progress made in resolving issues that have hampered their experience, such as poor quality market data, inaccurate bills and disputes between wholesalers and retailers.

Third party intermediaries (TPIs): were able to share a broader view of the market and in our sample had been responsible for helping customers switch by acting as brokers.  TPIs feedback reflected the views of both SMEs and larger businesses.

We will use the recommendations set out in the report to work with stakeholders to encourage improvements to the market for the benefit of non-household customers.