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Understanding who can help you during a water incident and what you can do to prepare your business.

By Simon Brown, Head of Contract Management 
Purple button with text 'Protect your business by implementing a contingency plan'






Head of contract management at Water Plus Simon BrownA couple of months ago I wrote a short blog which looked at the roles and responsibilities of wholesalers and retailers in the new water market. We’re now one year in to the open water market, and we’re seeing an increasing number of water incidents (this is when there’s a mains water outage in a certain part of the country, they are usually caused by a blockage or a burst pipe) occurring. The severe weather last week brought an unprecedented number of events, and I wanted to take a more detailed look at the responsibilities when it comes to water incidents and the provision of emergency water.  

For many people, particularly those who’ve been in the water industry for a number of years, the responsibilities of the
wholesaler and retailer are quite clear. However, there have been some subtle changes so I’d like to update you on who’s responsible for what, and also clarify what customers need to be aware of so you can be fully prepared should an unplanned event happen.

Before I go any further I’ll give you a brief overview of what changed when the water market opened in April 2017.  Prior to this, other than businesses who used more than 5,000m³ of water per year there was no choice for who they received their water service from – this was entirely dependent on which wholesale region their business was located in. Now, retailers have been introduced to the market and businesses can choose who they want to provide their water retail services. 

Read our blog by Key Account Manager, Michele Burns to find out more about what an open water market means. 

The introduction of retailer’s means there’s been a shift in what was in the past considered the responsibility of the wholesaler. Water retailers now provide the following services: 

And it’s the last point that I’m going to focus on for the rest of this blog. 

Contingency planning and emergency water – what’s happened? 

As I mentioned earlier we’ve seen an increasing number of water incidents occurring over the last few years – between April 2016 and March 2017, there were 52,547 mains pipe bursts compared to 22,500 in the previous year.  That’s an 18% increase in just one year. 

We’re finding that burst pipes, water contamination, blockages and maintenance work are amongst the main causes of water supply disruption facing UK businesses.

It’s still the responsibility of the wholesaler to provide a continuous supply of good quality water to business customers. However, when an unplanned water event occurs and businesses are left without water, the retailer may be able to provide some assistance. Wholesalers have a target to get water back up and running within 3 hours which for many is an inconvenience but manageable in most situations. It’s when an event lasts longer than this that things become more challenging.   It may become difficult to continue providing your service meaning loss of income and employee health and safety may be at risk – the list goes on and on.
Dark blue droplets of different building types including school and hospitalFor certain customers such as prisons, hospitals and care homes, nothing has really changed since market opening. Retailers still identify these customers as ‘sensitive’, and wholesalers have an obligation to identify whether these sites qualify for a site specific contingency plan and work with the customers on this. For all other customers, the wholesaler has to provide a supply of water after 24 hours for domestic use in the form of tankers, bowsers or bottled water and are obligated to provide 10 litres per head per day. 

This is where we have seen a change - in some wholesale areas where bottled water was often provided sooner than the 24 hour timescale, to improve customer satisfaction. However since market opening we’ve seen wholesalers pull away from this responsibility, leaving affected customers without the service they are used – leading to and increasing levels of dissatisfaction and frustration. 

As well as this, many wholesaler work to what is called ‘best endeavours’ basis. This means that unless your site is classed as ‘sensitive’ they deliver emergency water as soon as resource is possible and only ever provide enough water to cover basic hygiene requirements, this would not cover you for any additional business needs. 

So how can retailers help you prepare for an unplanned water event?

Water retailers can help you in two ways: 

  1. Help you to proactively prepare your business – retailers can work with you to develop a bespoke contingency plan for your site. They’ll consider the worst case scenario of how many hours you could potentially be without water and how your business would cope with this.
  2. Ensure you are able to act - if water is essential to keeping your business going retailers have options to keep you in supply with tankers, bowsers or bottled water services which can be provided on a 24/7 basis. Many retailers would recommend that emergency water be built into your contingency plan, with an assured response and agreed timescales. However, some customers opt not to have an assured plan in place and to operate on a reactive or an ad hoc basis and this is ok as long as you’ve fully considered the risks. 


It is the role of the retailer to be the customer champion and when asked, help you be prepared for these situations. By looking into developing a contingency plan and emergency water provision, should the worst happen you can rest easy knowing your business won’t be caught out. 

Contact the Water Plus Advanced Services team to find out how we help prepare your business or alternatively you can click here to find out more about the contingency planning and emergency water service we provide. 

Find out more about Contingency Planning and Emerency Water

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