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Small businesses ‘need help to understand water market'

Many small businesses still need more help understanding the new non-household retail water market in England, according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater), as switching figures are revealed for the market's first quarter of operation.

There have been more than 36,000 switches in the first three months since the launch of the newly competitive water retail market, data published today by the market operator, MOSL, showed. 

However, CCWater says that it received six times more enquiries from non-household customers during the first quarter of 2017/18, compared to the same three-month period last year.

The bulk of these contacts came from small and medium-sized businesses that turned to CCWater for help and advice in getting to grips with the new retail water market, which opened on 1 April.

Complaints made by non-household customers to CCWater also increased, in line with the consumer body’s expectations. Many of these complaints related to teething problems which CCWater expects to be swiftly resolved as the market develops.

Tony Smith, CCWater’s Chief Executive, said: “In terms of complaints made to CCWater, there is little to suggest that customers have so far encountered any major problems with switching or the services they receive from retailers.

“It’s also clear from the customer contact we’ve received that many smaller businesses need more help getting to grips with the new market. Retailers and water companies need to work harder to ensure customers are well informed so they can exercise their choice with confidence. In the meantime, we will continue to provide customers with the support and advice they need and gauge their experiences through our complaint handling and research.”

Small and medium-sized businesses accounted for over 90 per cent of the non-household customers who contacted CCWater in the first three months following market opening.

More than half (54 per cent) of the 370 complaints received from businesses related to billing and charges, which is consistent with previous years.

Competition has generated some new types of complaints, with a small number of businesses encountering difficulties finding information about retailers and their tariffs. There were also some delays in resolving operational issues, including low water pressure and leaks, caused by poor communication between retailers and wholesalers.

And CCWater intervened to help some household customers who were wrongly classified as being eligible for the non-household market.

CCWater is working closely with retailers to improve their service and tackle any emerging issues that have caused concern for customers. It is also collecting complaints data directly from retailers, which will be used to publish annual league tables comparing their performance. The first league table will be published in the autumn of 2018.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: retail , water

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