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World’s largest competitive water market opens in England

The world’s largest competitive water market, valued at £2.4 billion, opened on 1st April, representing the biggest shake up to the UK water industry since privatisation in 1989.

For the first time more than a million businesses, charities and public sector bodies in England now have the opportunity to choose their water services retailer. Eligible customers can choose from more than 20 licensed companies to provide services such as billing, account management, metering and water efficiency advice.

Cathryn Ross, Chief Executive at water industry regulator Ofwat, said:

“Business customers have been crying out for choice over their provider of water and waste water services for years. From today businesses, charities and public sector organisations in England will be able to choose their retailer; they will be able to use that choice to get a better deal.

“The opening of the business retail market takes us into new territory. The new market will be more dynamic and unpredictable. It is the single biggest change to the water sector since privatisation and I am hugely optimistic about the changes that lay ahead and the benefits they will bring to customers.”

“But it is important that we at Ofwat maintain effective oversight of how the new market is working and what customers are experiencing. This will mean that we can step in if we need to, to make sure customers are protected.”

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom welcomed the launch of the £2.4 billion market, which is expected to deliver up to £200 million of benefits to the economy and water customers over the next 30 years, through improved service and better value for money. She added:

“Over a million businesses, charities and public sector organisations will now be able to find the water deal that works best for them. Opening the market is an historic milestone, paving the way for innovation and efficiency and giving customers the same choice over their water retailer as they currently have for their energy and other essential services.”

The programme to open the market, called Open Water,  has been a partnership of Defra s Ofwat, which will regulate the new market, and Market Operator Services Ltd (MOSL), which will operate the market on behalf of its water company members, to ensure there is a smooth transition for customers. 

MOSL Chief Executive Ben Jeffs said:

“Today’s launch marks the successful delivery of the largest and most complicated transformation programmes undertaken by the water sector since privatisation. Delivering a programme of this scale and complexity has involved a huge team effort across Government, Ofwat and the entire industry.”

“Competition not only offers non-household customers the prospect of a better price for a better service, it will create new opportunities and challenges for the sector as a whole.The level of engagement we have had to date has been exemplary and, as the market operator, we look forward to working with companies to ensure the new market delivers on its promise to customers.”

Scotland is the only other country with a competitive water market for businesses. In Scotland over the last three years nearly 40% of the market has switched so that competition appears to be active and effective. The Scottish Government itself has made estimated savings of c. £40 million over a 4-year period.