arrows pointing at the word improve

Falling satisfaction levels and a wave of billing complaints must not be allowed to dampen business customers’ enthusiasm to shop around for a better water deal, a new report has warned.

Research by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has revealed that satisfaction with water services and trust in water companies has fallen among non-household customers in England, since they were given the chance to switch supplier two years ago.

But in Wales, where most customers still cannot switch, business customers remain more satisfied than their English counterparts – a gap which has widened since 2016.

More encouragingly in England, almost nine out of ten switchers expressed satisfaction with the process, according to the Testing the Waters report (pdf). But too many small businesses are in danger of missing out, with only two in five aware they can change retailer.

Competition has also been undermined by a sharp rise in complaints from businesses that have encountered problems, particularly with billing and charges. Non-household complaints handled by CCWater more than tripled during the first year of the market and have shown little sign of receding in the past 12 months. The increase has been driven by some poor performing larger retailers.

Mike Keil, Head of Policy and Research for the Consumer Council for Water, said:

Satisfaction levels are a crucial test of how well a market is delivering for customers and our research doesn’t paint a very positive picture. For the market to be a long-term success, retailers and wholesalers need to work together to get to grips with the difficulties that have hampered the first two years of competition.

The opening of the retail water market in April 2017 aimed to improve services and deliver savings for about 1.2 million non-household customers in England, through offering them a choice of retailers. These provide the retail services including billing, meter reading and customer support. Regional water companies have continued to provide the ‘wholesale’ services, including supplying tap water and treating wastewater.

But satisfaction with water services in England has since dropped to 87 per cent (Wales 93 per cent), while only 7 in 10 businesses are content with their retail services. Fewer businesses in England also trust their water company (27%) or believe that it cares (51%), compared to when the same study was carried out in 2016.

As well as improving their service and reducing complaints, CCWater says retailers should provide customers with more information on switching and the benefits they can offer them. At the moment only one in five businesses who are aware of the market have engaged with it. Retailers need to entice more customers to switch or renegotiate if the market is going to fulfil its potential.

CCWater will be publishing a report in the summer highlighting the best and worst performing retailers for complaints to help businesses make a more informed choice.

For more information, call the media team on 0121 345 1006.

The research involved 2,300 telephone interviews with business customers across England and Wales. Interviewing took place between April 2018 and August 2018.

Download Testing the Waters - Highlights Report (pdf – 255 KB)