Awareness of the water retail market has “hit a brick wall” and retailers must do more to help raise it, the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has warned.

The latest wave of SME research published by the water watchdog on 18 September found that only two out of five (41 per cent) non-household customers realise they can switch their water provider. This compares with 43 per cent which said they were aware in July 2017 and 38 per cent in January 2018.

Graph: change across each wave

CCWater said it “remains concerned” that overall awareness levels have not shifted since July 2017 when it carried out the first of its three surveys to date tracking the views of SMEs.

Chief executive Tony Smith said: “Customer awareness increased significantly ahead of the market opening but in the past year it appears to have hit a brick wall and that really concerns us.

“We know that once small businesses are aware they have a choice they are interested in exploring their options but at the moment too many are being sold short by a lack of awareness and information.”

The water watchdog will be renewing its own efforts to help raise awareness through working in partnership with influential representative bodies – including the Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and National Farmers’ Union.

However, CCWater said it believes water retailers are best-placed to reach out to smaller businesses and help them understand how choice can benefit them. One of the ways retailers can do this is by sharing positive case studies from their own customers that have benefitted from switching or renegotiating.

Ofwat senior director Emma Kelso said: “Our Open for Business report published in June, found that smaller businesses are generally less aware of the market and therefore potentially missing out of the benefits it can offer.

“While we would look to retailers and third-party intermediaries (TPIs) in the first instance to drive better awareness and engagement, our report also identified a number of market issues including data quality, poor aggregate wholesaler performance, and wholesaler-retailer interaction that may be hindering retailers’ ability to participate and drive customer engagement.

“We are looking to ways for industry to address these issues and we are working with the market operator MOSL and industry to pursue priorities for action.”

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