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Business Water Price Increase 2023

In the past year, small business owners grappled with the repercussions of the energy crisis. Those who have managed to endure these challenges now face another impending issue – a substantial increase in their business water and wastewater service rates.

This guide provides an overview of what small business owners can anticipate in terms of water rates for 2023 and offers guidance on how to protect your business against future price hikes.

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Will 2023 bring significant business water price rises?

Yes, as of April 1, 2023, the majority of businesses experienced a substantial spike in their business water rates.

Business water rates saw an average increase of 14.4% in April 2023.

Two factors are contributing to the escalating costs of the business water bill. Let’s delve into each of them:

Inflationary Pressures on Business Water Infrastructure

The energy crisis and various other factors have driven UK inflation to its highest level in four decades. Consequently, the operational expenses associated with business water supply and with maintaining water infrastructure have seen a significant rise. As a result, in April 2023, wholesale water rates experienced an increase, and this cost is being passed on to households and businesses that use water.

Water UK, a membership organization representing the water industry, has projected a 7.5% inflation-driven increment in water bills for April 2023.

Removal of the Default Water Price Cap

The second factor contributing to the substantial hike in default water rates, which most businesses pay, is the reassessment of the default price cap calculation comparing business water suppliers by Ofwat, the regulator. This reassessment has led to a 30% surge in the retail rates charged by business water suppliers.

On average, this alteration results in an overall increase in water bills of 6.4%, excluding the effects of inflation.

How are business water prices calculated?

Businesses are billed for water and wastewater services through two distinct charges:

Wholesale Rates

This comprises the fee levied by the local water supplier for supplying potable water and managing the local water infrastructure.

Retail Rates

These are additional charges imposed by business water suppliers. They cover customer services, meter readings, and billing services provided to their clients.

The foundational wholesale rates within water bills are likely to rise due to the escalating costs associated with operating the water supply infrastructure, driven by inflationary pressures.

Business water suppliers have the flexibility to set their retail rates, provided they remain below the default rates price cap set by the regulatory body, Ofwat.

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Since the implementation of deregulation in 2017, businesses have been allowed to opt for alternative business premises water suppliers and establish a fixed, lower retail rate with any available business water suppliers within the market.

The majority of businesses in England, however, have not exercised this choice of business water supplier, resulting in them being subject to what is known as “default water rates” offered by the business water suppliers in your specific region.

These default rates, which the primary business water suppliers in each region make publicly available online, are closely regulated by Ofwat, the governing authority. Ofwat places a price cap on these default retail rates to safeguard businesses that compare business water suppliers have never made the switch.

Typically, the default water suppliers tend to charge the maximum amount permitted under the established default price cap. Consequently, the determination of this cap has a direct and significant impact on business water comparison and on the majority of businesses.

Design Elements

How does the default contract price cap work?

The Retail Exit Code establishes maximum rates applicable to two business water customer groups on the default contract:

Group One

(comprising 85% of the market) – customers with an annual consumption of less than 500m3, totalling 1,049,000 businesses.

Group Two

(constituting 14% of the market) – customers with an annual consumption ranging from over 500m3 to less than 50,000m3, totalling 170,000 businesses.

This Retail Exit Code offers protection to 99% of businesses in the commercial water market. The only exception is high industrial users, who are expected to manage their water expenses independently of water suppliers.

The calculation of maximum retail business water rates under the Retail Exit Code is as follows:

Group One Water Price Cap:

  • The Retail Exit Code limits the maximum retail business water rates charged in a default contract based on:
    • Allowed Retail Cost per Customer (representing supplier service costs, including meter readings and customer service)
    • Net Margin (allowing for a reasonable profit)
    • Allowed Bad Debt Allowance (addressing the risk of unpaid bills due to the pandemic)

Group Two Water Price Cap:

  • For Group Two, the Retail Exit Code caps the maximum retail business water rates at 8% of the underlying water wholesale charges and 10% of underlying wastewater charges.

Recommendations following the 2023 business water price rise

Ofwat has finalized its decision on non-household water price increases for 2023. However, substantial industry disagreement persists regarding the role of the water price cap. Let’s explore the different perspectives:

Ofwat's Stance

  • Ofwat recognizes the lack of effective competition within the small business segment of the water market.
  • Given this absence of competition, Ofwat argues that the existing price cap mechanism remains essential to safeguard small business customers from paying prices that don’t correspond to costs or service quality.
  • While upholding the broad approach to the price cap, Ofwat has conducted a complete reassessment of the benchmark costs used in its calculation.
  • This reassessment has led to a 30% increase in the group one price cap, expected to result in a 6.4% increase in group one water bills before accounting for inflation.

UK Water Retailer Council's Perspective

  • The UK Water Retailer Council, consisting of business water suppliers in the deregulated market, commissioned a report analyzing regulation in the non-household water sector.
  • The report recommends a substantial increase in the maximum Group One price cap.
  • It argues that the cost of serving the smallest customers far surpasses the retail fees they can charge. The council suggests amending the Retail Exit Code to include a 55% increase in the Allowed Retail Cost per Customer.
  • The report also emphasizes the need for a significant increase in the allowable margin to protect suppliers from escalating customer debt risks.

The Strategic Panel's View

  • The Strategic Panel, comprising representatives from wholesalers, business water suppliers, independents, as well as Ofwat and MOSL, aims to provide strategic direction for improving non-household customer outcomes.
  • The Panel’s formal response to the Ofwat consultation asserts that “current price caps are too low in all regions to enable competition for Group One customers with any retailer.”
  • They recommend loosening or lifting the Retail Exit Code price controls for group one customers.
  • The Panel expresses concern that the current price controls are increasing the risk of bankruptcy for incumbent business water suppliers, given the extremely low margins for Group One customers.
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Our view on the business water increase 2023

Business Energy Comparison serves as a third-party intermediary (TPI) within the realm of commercial water, facilitating switching business water suppliers from across the market. Our mission involves assisting businesses to switch business water suppliers and transitioning to more cost-effective tariffs.

Start your business water comparison and switch business water suppliers with Business Energy Comparison today.