With the water market open to competition in England and Scotland, businesses, charities and public sector organisations can buy their water services in much the same way they purchase other utilities like gas, electricity and telecoms.
Before April 2017 (in England, and since 2008 in Scotland), your local water company supplied your clean water and took away wastewater. They issued you with bills, which covered all the costs associated with your water services and you paid the bill directly to the water company.
If you had sites in different areas of the country you received separate bills from each of the local water companies serving your sites. If you had multiple sites across the UK, you could have been receiving bills from over 20 different water companies.
Since April 2017, all that’s changed as the English water market has now been de-regulated. The wholesalers are still responsible for supplying clean water and taking away wastewater. You can’t choose your wholesaler as this is purely dependent on where your site is located. But you can choose which water retailer you buy water services (such as billing, payments, meter reading and customer service) from. They in turn pay the wholesaler for water used and wastewater. This means you can choose a price and service best for you and only have one bill and company to deal with if you have multiple sites.
Wholesalers are responsible for supplying clean water, taking away and cleaning wastewater, maintaining reservoirs and infrastructure like pipes and sewers.
They’re also responsible for services including:
Your water retailer is the first point of contact for asking for any of the services listed above, along with providing the following services:
The price that you pay for your water is a combination of the wholesale costs and the retailer service costs. The wholesale cost covers:
This is for the clean water supplied and used by the business or the property. If you have a water meter, you’re charged for the volume of water you use, plus a standing charge according to the size of your meter. The standing charge (or fixed charge as it sometimes known) goes towards the maintenance of the meter and water infrastructure.
This is for sewerage or wastewater that is taken away. It is usually based on the amount of water you use, less an allowance for water that doesn’t return to the sewer.
This is for the removal and treatment of rainwater that drains into the main sewers both from your property (surface water) and from roads and footpaths (highways drainage) so it can be reused as clean water.
You may also have a charge for trade effluent, which is water contaminated with things such as fats, oil, grease, chemicals or food waste, which requires additional treatment. Remember, if you discharge anything other than domestic waste into a drain connected to a public sewer, it’s your responsibility to obtain advance consent from the wholesaler for your area.
Your bill also includes the costs for services provided by the water retailer who manages your account, such as meter reading, billing, payments, account management and customer service. Water retailer charges are regulated by the Office for Water Services (Ofwat) in England and the Water Industry Commission (WICS) in Scotland.