Water retailers, companies and customers to benefit from new schemes to drive improvements in market data

• New incentive schemes to tackle data errors in the water retail market
• Biggest improvement in occupancy data of any intervention since market opening

United Utilities is the first water company in England to offer retailers two new incentives for finding businesses who’ve slipped through the billing net.

The schemes to identify so-called gap sites and false vacancies have so-far brought more than 4,000 business premises in the North West back into charge.

Paul Stelfox, head of business market services for the water firm said the accuracy of central market systems data was key to the success of the market and for delivering value for customers.

“Some business premises are using water without being billed for it either because there is a gap in our data for that site or it’s incorrectly marked as a vacant site.”

“That’s a problem for other water customers because there is a limit to the total revenue we can recover - therefore the more customers who are paying for their water the lower we can keep everyone’s bills. But for retailers, the cost of bringing these premises back into charge was often higher than the tight profit margins they operate to.”

The Gap Site Incentive Scheme was launched in April, followed by the Vacancy Incentive Scheme in October. Both offer retailers a payment for every business premises whose market data is corrected.

United Utilities is the first water company to offer retailers both schemes and is already seeing significant improvements in the accuracy of its data. More than 16,000 applications for corrections have been received and data on 4,000 premises has been corrected, with incentive payments having been paid to retailers.

United Utilities’ commercial strategy manager Emma Birch said the vacancy scheme in particular had already delivered the biggest improvement in occupancy data of any intervention since market opening.

“We have been really encouraged by the willingness of all retailers to work with us and with each other whilst we understand and refine the schemes to make them as efficient as possible. We hope that these schemes can benefit all parties, as well as our wider customers through more accurate data creating fairer charging for all. We would encourage any retailers who would like to know more about the schemes to contact us,” she said.

Michele Marshall–Jackson, Head of Market Operations at water retailer Water Plus, said: “The vacancy scheme supports our approach on continually improving data we all work with in our industry and has helped us to identify even more locations where businesses have occupied a site, along with sites that are not eligible for charging in the water market.

“Site use can change in a short time, including being converted to living accommodation, and some businesses do not realise they need to inform a retailer when they move into - or leave - a property, even if they have received a letter, so, on top of raising awareness around this, it’s also increasing improved data sharing across the industry.”

Barry Millar, Director of another water retailer, Waterscan, welcomed the schemes as a market first in providing means and motive to improve market data at source, a fundamental tenet of a successful water retail market.

“We are proud to assist in the biggest improvement in market occupancy data since market opening. Waterscan recognises the part this and other incentive schemes can play in addressing issues as varied as non-revenue water, water efficiency and financial due diligence, combining to provide fairness and accuracy of billing, mitigate water scarcity and NHH market performance.

“The competitive landscape of this scheme is not without its challenges, but Waterscan has invested heavily to ensure we are well placed to provide swift and accurate results, believing this scheme sets a precedent for the entire English water market,” he said.

Information about both schemes can be found on the United Utilities’ website alongside information about our other incentive schemes. https://www.unitedutilities.com/Business-services/retailers/incentive-schemes