Switching your water supplier – how easy is it?
PART 1: By Phill Tuxford
April 2017 signalled a commercial first in the UK water industry with businesses and organisations being given the opportunity to pick and choose their water supplier.
The retail water market is worth approx. £2.5 billion and long established water companies are now finding themselves in a competitive arena with new brands, many formed by joint ventures or subsidiary, including Water Plus and Three Sixty.
With a host of new players flooding into the market and long standing water companies faced with protecting their non-domestic customer base, I decided to take on the task of exploring just how easy (or difficult!) it is for a business to change its water supplier.
Following a number of discussions with my colleagues, it became very clear that although everyone was aware of the changes to the market, none of us knew how the process would actually work in practice.
Working within the water industry we advise many of our customers on water related matters, so what better way to find out than to go through the process ourselves and be in a position to explain it all through first-hand experience?
The first step was to contact Business Wise Solutions, a utilities broker who helped us to change our gas and electricity supplier last year. Rachael Batson, utilities consultant & account manager at Business Wise Solutions, requested copies of our water bills for the last 12 months so she could analyse our water usage over a set period of time.
Looking at those bills we use around about 25-30 m3 a quarter, plus we have a trade effluent consent license for our outgoing wastewater and surface water.
Next, we provided Rachael with a letter of authority stating that she could contact water suppliers on our behalf. Rachael then put tenders together and emailed selected water suppliers to ask for prices.
At the start of this exercise in March 2017, we hadn’t expected to see any great savings and Rachael confirmed our expectations almost immediately. She also informed us that many of the water suppliers she had contacted had a long list of businesses looking for quotes and that the earliest we could expect to see a comparative list of prices would be late May.
Alongside our fact-finding mission, our current water supplier, United Utilities, automatically switched our account to new water retailer, Water Plus, a United Utilities and Severn Trent Water joint venture. Interestingly, as a result of this switch, Detectronic has ended up with two water accounts rather than one and we are now waiting for an explanation as to where the other water account number has come from!
As we await quotes, I get the feeling that the water companies were perhaps not fully prepared for the volume of early interest from businesses looking to switch their supplier.
It will be very interesting to see what we get from them later this month, all of which I’ll outline in part two of this series of articles.
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