The water market for businesses has changed.

The water market in England, and the way it serves businesses, fundamentally changed on 1 April 2017.  However, most businesses either don’t know about it, or what it means for them.

If you’re a business owner, what do you need to know?

What is it all about?

Up until now, the supply of all water and waste water in England has been supplied by 21 regional monopoly water businesses, each providing water to customers in their regional zone. That’s similar to how energy and phone services were provided, decades ago.

But deregulation of the water industry now means that all of England’s 1.2 million commercial water users will be able to switch water and waste water supplier. The policy thinking is, that by removing the regional monopoly water businesses – and allowing customers to choose their water supplier – that service levels will improve and prices for water and waste may fall.

This change is only affecting business users in England, so households will not be affected yet. And, that businesses currently using more than 5,000 cubic meters of water annually are unaffected; they could already choose their supplier.

How much money can I save?

It’s believed that an immediate approximate 6% saving is available for the average small business that switches, but that could change depending on how competitive the suppliers want to be.

In Scotland, which has had a deregulated market since 2008, discounts of 25% or more can be achieved by switching supplier. But these discounts took a few years to filter into the market, and so it’s possible that discounts will increase over time.

There could also be a variety of introductory offers to build market share, so it’s wise to check.

What other benefits are there?

Initially, the benefit will be felt most by businesses with many sites spread across the UK. For example, a business with premises in London and Birmingham would have a different provider for each site. Now that business can consolidate their bills under one supplier, making price negotiation stronger and admin simpler.

Different businesses have different requirements. A small manufacturer may want information about using less water, while a retailer may simply want to consolidate bills.

Understanding what you may need from your supplier will assist in your choice, as not all of them offer the same services yet.

How can I switch?

Switching suppliers is straightforward – you’ll be able to gather prices in the same way that you do for energy.

You may want to use the services of a broker, who will find the best available deals for water and waste water for your premises, and manage the switch to your new supplier. But remember, ask for their commission levels before making any commitment!

Like energy, you can only switch if your payments are up to date and you have no outstanding issues with your current supplier. You’ll also need to get hold of your current bills to see your usage. If you’re on a water meter, then you’ll have accurate consumption data. Not only will this help speed up the process of switching, but it will also ensure you get an accurate quote for your water supply.

Where can I found out more?

Ofwat, the regulator for water in England and Wales, has set up Open Water – a free and impartial source of advice and information on the water market and its changes. Check it here

There’s also a handy summary of how to go about switching also on OpenWater.