Farmers will be able to choose their water provider from April 2017, as a result of water market reforms. The reforms, which were passed in 2014, will enable all businesses in England to switch their water and sewage supplier if they wish.
Newly-created water retailers will act as the middlemen between customers and wholesalers. They will pay a rental fee to the wholesalers and can then market their services to businesses.
The responsibility to carry out services such as readings and repairs previously provided by the wholesalers, will fall to retailers.
The changes will cause the water market to more closely resemble other deregulated utility markets, such as gas and electricity. It is likely that retailers will focus on marketing their services to a particular industry, allowing them to tailor bespoke packages to specific sectors.
Evan Joanette, policy manager at Consumer Council for Water, highlighted the advantages of the new system.
“An open market should give farmers the chance to switch to more competitive tariffs or specialist services that suit their business,” he said.
He added that some farmers may want extra services from their retailers, such as more frequent meter readings, leak-detection assistance or advice on water efficiency.
The new system will allow them to seek out retailers who will provide these sorts of extras as part of their water package deal.
Paul Hammett, national water resource specialist for the NFU, added a note of caution. He said, “Opening the new market is a complex challenge and there are many ongoing issues with the deregulated market that all parties are keen to avoid repeating.
“Farmers and growers are, by their nature, geographically isolated in rural areas and so the level of service received in terms of supply is paramount to them,” he added.
The new rules are for businesses (non-domestic customers), not consumers, and will apply exclusively to businesses operating in England.
OpenWater, which is the body the government have set up to market and implement the changes, claims the open market will mean more efficient customer service and better-tailored packages, water efficiency advice and cheaper prices.