Castle Water, the UK’s leading independent water retailer, opposes plan to allow retailers to back-bill business customers in England.
An “emergency” meeting of the Codes Panel, which is responsible for changes to the operation of the business water market, has voted for a change which will allow back-billing of customers.
Ofwat’s website currently advises customers: “You should not receive a bill for any period beyond 16 months”. However, the emergency meeting, which voted – with only Castle Water opposing – to suspend final settlement reports, could lead to customers being able to be back-billed, against the intention of the market, and against Ofwat’s express advice to customers.
At an emergency meeting of the Codes Panel on 16 July, a vote was taken to “defer” producing final settlement reports. This was against the advice of the market operator, MOSL.
Only one retailer, Castle Water, opposed this, arguing that this change would create unacceptable instability for customers.
All other members of the panel voted for the deferral, including 5 retailers: Business Stream, Anglian Water Business, Water Plus, Clear Business Water and Water 2 Business.
The argument put forward was that there are remaining problems with meter reads for a minority of meters, resulting in the risk of incorrect charging.
Castle Water considers this to be unacceptable to customers. The opening of the market was announced in 2014, and legacy incumbents have had ample time and resource to get their act together. Now customers are being put at risk of back-billing and will have to accept ongoing uncertainty because incumbent water companies have not yet resolved longstanding problems.
The Panel Secretariat has not yet published the minutes of this emergency meeting, or the preceding one on 9 July which considered the same issue.
Any change recommended by the Codes Panel needs to be approved by Ofwat before being implemented.
John Reynolds OBE, CEO of Castle Water says:
This defies belief. Water retailers should not expect customers to put up with long term uncertainty over billing. There is no need for this change to the market codes, which fundamentally changes the basis of the water market. Castle Water is committed to acting in the interests of customers and finds this completely unacceptable.
Customers can see clearly from this which Retailer is able to actively pursue customers’ interests – Castle Water. Resolving fundamental issues on behalf of individual customers, Castle Water has raised more formal disputes with Wholesalers through the MOSL disputes process, about more supply points, than all other retailers combined.