A short Commons Library Briefing paper providing an update on the water retail market for non-household customers in England. It includes information on support for business customers during the coronavirus outbreak in each nation.

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Water retail services are the customer-facing services provided by a water company such as customer care, billing, selling, metering and advice.

A competitive water retail market opened for non-household customers in England in April 2017. Information about the English water market is available on the Open Water website. The Library paper, Increasing competition in the water industry (November 2016) provides background information.

In reviews of the market so far, Ofwat (economic regulator for the water industry) and the House of Commons Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee found that while some businesses have made savings from switching suppliers, there has been low engagement with the market from small companies and that the market has not yet delivered on expectations for water efficiency improvements.

The Government stated in May 2019 that no decision had been made about whether to roll-out retail water competition for domestic customers in England, stating it was looking to learn lessons from the business market first.

Devolved administrations: Scotland established retail competition for non-household water users in 2008. Water retail providers purchase wholesale services from Scottish Water, a publicly owned company.

In Wales, only businesses customers that use a minimum of 50 megalitres of water a year can switch supplier. There is no retail competition for water in Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus and water bills: support for businesses

England: businesses that have had to close due to coronavirus can inform their water retailer and will not be billed for water if the premises is classified as ‘vacant’. Ofwat and the English water market operator MOSL have made regulatory changes to address the impacts of coronavirus on the market as a whole. For further information, see Ofwat’s coronavirus information webpage and information from the Consumer Council for Water.

Scotland: The Water Industry Commission for Scotland introduced two schemes to support non-household customers adversely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak with water bills. One scheme allows non-household customers to get a refund on pre-paid bills, the other allows customers to request a temporary deferral of wholesale water charges.

Wales and Northern Ireland: business customers should contact their water supplier. Welsh Water has offered support including payment holidays and revised payment plans. Information from NI water is available on their Covid-19 webpage

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