Over half of English businesses say they are likely to switch supplier when the water market is deregulated in April 2017 according to survey data published today (7 December 2016) by leading utility management consultancy, Utilitywise plc. Businesses customers cite poor value for money, low quality service and lack of trust as the most likely factors to drive them away.

The Utilitywise survey, conducted by independent market research firm Edelman Intelligence, quizzed a representative sample of 453 business decision makers from England about their likely approach to water deregulation. The results suggest that businesses in England could benefit from a huge potential shake-up of the water sector with over half (53%) of English businesses likely to switch supplier in 2017.

In the know

A previous Utilitywise-sponsored survey revealed that just four in ten businesses across England were aware of forthcoming water deregulation, with many businesses saying they didn’t understand the potential benefits of the coming market changes. However today's survey shows that when they were informed about water deregulation, a massive 74% of businesses stated that they were likely to switch compared to the 37% of companies with little knowledge of the upcoming changes.

It is expected that now customers have experienced switching suppliers within the deregulated energy market, this will negate any uncertainty over changing utility suppliers.

The survey shows that 46% of businesses are looking to the Government to provide clarity around the changes to the water market, with only 15% trusting the information that they receive from water companies. This highlights the demand for more to be done to help companies when the market deregulates next year.

James Duncan, Head of Water Market Strategy at Utilitywise said: “Many water suppliers risk being caught short as business customers will no longer have to tolerate poor customer service and lack of competition. By exercising their right to switch supplier, small and medium-sized businesses finally have a choice and will benefit from a fundamental reshaping of the market.”

Value for money

The survey exposes widespread dissatisfaction with value and service provided by current water suppliers Many of the customers surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with value for money with 38% believing that they pay too much.

When asked about the reasons for switching supplier, 56% of businesses stated that they want “a better price”, nearly one in four (22%) want “better customer service” and a quarter (26%) want “a supplier that they can trust”. Alarmingly, only 19% are happy with their current supplier.

Trust and billing

Billing issues appear to be a common occurrence within the sector with 37% of businesses in the country having experienced billing errors (with half of these being over-charged). Only 41% of these were satisfied with the way that billing issues were resolved.

This has contributed towards over 30% of businesses saying that they do not trust their current water supplier to “put the customer first”.

James Duncan continued: “These survey results are a wake-up call to suppliers in the English market. Our experience of the impact of deregulation in the Scottish market shows that the incumbent supplier lost around 50% of its market share for reasons very similar to those highlighted in this survey. There are over 1.2 million businesses in the English market who will be able to choose their water supplier from April 2017 onwards. This means that the most progressive, innovative, service-oriented suppliers have a fantastic opportunity to raise the service, trust and value bar and win hundreds of thousands of new customers in 2017 and beyond”.

The survey shows that 46% of businesses are looking to the Government to provide clarity around the changes to the water market, with only 15% trusting the information that they receive from water companies. This highlights the demand for more to be done to help companies when the market deregulates next year.