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Opening up water options

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 17

With only a few weeks left until public sector organisations across England can choose their water services retailer, it’s time to make sure you know what your options are, writes Helen Robinson-Gordon, head of communications for Retail Market Opening at Ofwat.

At the moment, unless you are an organisation which uses more than 50 million litres of water a year, you cannot choose who supplies these services – they’re provided by your regional water company. 

But this is about to change. From 1 April, all 1.2 million eligible businesses, charities and public sector organisations across England will be able to choose who supplies their water and wastewater retail services. This includes customer services such as billing, metering and water saving advice. 

But according to a recent England-wide survey commissioned by the water regulator, Ofwat, few public sector organisations are aware of the impending new market. Many of those surveyed said they knew little or nothing about it and didn’t realise they would be eligible to negotiate a better deal with their existing supplier or switch to find a better one. 

The Open Water market 

So what’s actually happening? The Open Water market will work like any other utility market, such as telecoms, electricity and gas. Retailers will buy wholesale services (the physical supply of water and removal of wastewater) and package them up with other services. Retailers will compete for your business, for services such as billing, water meter reading and customer services. Services like water and wastewater pipes are not affected. 

What would be the benefit of considering switching? Well, firstly, if you have lots of different sites you will benefit from lower costs, and save yourself time and admin costs, by getting them all combined under one water supplier and one bill. 

In the survey, one large education provider in the Midlands said they were going to “immediately go to the market and look at what price options we have. My remit is to save £250,000 in 12 months, so I’m very keen to find savings”. 

The Open Water programme, a partnership of Ofwat, Defra and Market Operator Services Ltd (MOSL), expects the market opening to improve customer service and drive innovation – because if people have the choice of who provides a service to them, they’re going to switch if they’re not getting good customer service. 

In the survey, many participants said access to online services to pay their bills and smart meters to monitor their water usage or identify leaks would be of benefit. One large education supplier said they’d been pushing their water company for improvements in online billing: “If they can’t do that, then there’s a potential reason for me to move somewhere else; rather than a cost saving, there might be service improvement.” 

Many of those surveyed said advice on reducing water consumption or recycling waste and/or rain water to reduce costs and protect the environment would be welcomed as part of their package. 

How do you find out more? To enable openness and access to information in the market, the Open Water website has been created. This website, backed by Ofwat, Defra and MOSL, is the only impartial, customer-facing site designed to provide guidance and information about the market and those operating in it. There is also a national awareness campaign running until the end of March to help increase awareness.

For more information

The Open Water website can be accessed at:


Watch the short national awareness campaign video, ‘Your Water, Your Choice’ at:


The Open Water programme also has an information pack which you can request from:

E: [email protected]

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