Research undertaken by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has detailed a drop in levels of satisfaction and trust from non-domestic customers with their water companies. According to the figures, 87 per cent were satisfied with their water services in 2018, compared to 93 per cent in 2016.

Similarly, the water watchdog revealed in its Testing the Waters report that 35 per cent of polled customers gave their service a trust score of nine or ten out of ten in 2016, whereas only 29 per cent did the same last year. Business customers’ view as to whether their water company cares about the service it provides has also fallen from 62 per cent in 2016 to 52 per cent in 2018.

From a retail perspective, 19 per cent of customers said they would switch company for savings of 1-5 per cent, compared to only 11 per cent in 2016. Over this two-year period, only 15 per cent said that they would not switch at all, down from the 23 per cent who said the same previously.

During the first year of the market, non-household complaints handled by CCWater more than tripled, looking unlikely to fall back over the last 12 months.

On a more positive note, nine out of ten of those who switched supplier were satisfied with the process, however, only two out of five small businesses are actually aware that they can switch. Lack of awareness continues to hamper the market.

The non-domestic water market opened up to competition as of 1 April 2017. Earlier this month, water retailer Aquaflow became the first retailer to exit the market as it entered liquidation. Ofwat designated Clear Business Water as the retailer that would take on the failed company’s customers.

Mike Keil, head of policy and research for CCWater, said: “Satisfaction levels are a crucial test of how well a market is delivering for customers and our research doesn’t paint a very positive picture.

“For the market to be a long-term success, retailers and wholesalers need to work together to get to grips with the difficulties that have hampered the first two years of competition.”

Intriguingly, in Wales, where the majority of businesses cannot switch, customers remain more satisfied, with the gap with English customers widening since 2016.

A spokesperson for water retailer Pennon Water Services, which includes Source for Business, commented: “The Consumer Council for Water’s latest report offers much for retailers and regulators to think about. We note their comment that the increase in complaints has been driven by some poor performing larger retailers. As the sixth largest retailer in the business water market we are bucking this trend with customer satisfaction ratings averaging eight out of ten on public review websites and we continue to put customer service at the heart of everything we do.

“We also note the section of the report that focuses on awareness levels of switching, particularly amongst small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). Pennon Water Services has consistently and pro actively worked to raise awareness of switching amongst this sector through messaging on bills and a range of other marketing channels. We will continue to do this and would encourage the regulator to play its part by allowing retailers to incentivise SMEs to switch suppliers so that they can get the benefits of the retail water market.”

Earlier this week MOSL, the market operator for England’s water retail market, appointed former Thames Water strategic director, Sarah McMath, as its new chief executive.

At the start of the month, Utility Week published its report on the Future Retail #2 conference, discussing the state and future of the industry.

CCWater is expected to publish a report in the summer highlighting the best and worst performing retailers for complaints.

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