Utility Week

UTILITY Week 27th May 2016

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Page 26 of 31

Customers This week Customers uncertain about water market Switching suppliers would have to save at least £40 a year to justify the effort, say customers Research by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) has found that water customers are unconvinced about domestic competition in the market, and would not "waste their time" shopping around for marginal savings on their water bill. The consumer watchdog found that two-thirds of custom- ers said they would welcome the opportunity to shop around for a different retail supplier. However, when they were informed that actual savings could be as little as £4-8 on the average annual water and sewerage bill, only one-third said they would consider switching. CCWater said the lure of lower prices – rather than better customer service – would provide the biggest motivation for customers to consider switching, or nego- tiating a better deal with their existing water company. When asked how much they would need to save to switch, 44 per cent of households said more than £40 a year – more than the total value of retail services on the average water and sewerage bill. CCWater chief executive Tony Smith said: "Most cus- tomers like the idea of choice, especially if it can reduce their water and sewerage bills. But many have made it clear they will not waste their time shopping around if the savings are so small." The consumer group carried out similar research in 2008, which suggested there was "some appetite" for competition among households. It also revealed house- holds had "significant expectations" about savings and "concerns about how the market would work". LV ENERGY Extra Energy falls under Eco scheme Independent supplier Extra Energy has become the twelh supplier to be obligated under the government's Energy Com- pany Obligation (Eco) scheme. In its annual audit of sup- pliers, Ofgem E-Serve found the supplier had met the thresh- old to be obligated under the scheme – which requires larger suppliers to deliver energy efficiency measures such as lo insulation and new boilers. Ofgem said there was some variation in suppliers' progress towards meeting their obliga- tions. Taken together, suppliers still have to deliver 6.05 tonnes of carbon dioxide of carbon savings and £1.60 billion of cost savings before the end of the scheme in 2017. WATER More apply for retail market licences Thames Water Commercial Services, Northumbrian Water Business and Cobalt Water have applied to Ofwat for licences to participate in the English retail market, which opens next April. Northumbrian intends to offer "national coverage" to eli- gible customers in England and Wales, becoming the retail sup- plier for customers in the North- umbrian Water and Essex and Suffolk Water regions through the retail exit mechanism. It already provides water and sewerage services to a portfolio of customers in Scotland, and is rebranding as Wave. Meanwhile, Thames holds a current water supply licence and is applying for the new water supply and sewerage licence. Cobalt has applied for a water supply and sewerage licence to integrate retail operations in the English and Welsh water mar- kets into its Scottish operations. WATER More help for UU's struggling customers United Utilities (UU) is launch- ing a scheme to help water customers in the North West who need extra support. The Priority Services scheme helps customers manage debt; supports those facing mental health issues or struggling with "life events" such as divorce, job loss or bereavement; and provides services for customers with physical disabilities. The free scheme includes tailored payment plans to avoid or overcome debt; large print, braille or "talking" bills; a nomi- nee scheme that lets a carer, family member or friend manage a water account on someone's behalf; translation services and extra support for vulnerable customers during interruptions to water supply. Savings of £4-8 will not encourage switching I am the customer Nik Philpot "Technology enables these interactions to be softened" The days when consumers' financial arrangements revolved around four or five straightfor- ward predictable bills are long gone. A consequence of this complexity is that customers can miss payments, requiring service providers to be diligent in the pursuit of payment. Culturally, debt collection comes from a rocky place, but these days it needn't. Some utilities have suf- fered from claims of aggressive tactics to recover debt. Empathy which in turn enhances collec- tion rates. De pursuit of a payment through the careful deploy- ment of solutions supported by technology, can turn what has previously been seen as an adversarial interaction into another positive interaction with a long-term customer. If utilities see the process as con- nection rather than collection, it greatly improves the experience for all concerned. Nik Philpot, CEO, Eckoh somehow gets lost, when oen it's simply a case of a memory lapse on the part of the cus- tomer, requiring no more than a gentle reminder. Technology enables some of these crucial interactions to be soened, turning a potentially negative exchange into an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. Technology at its best enables far more nuance than old-fashioned demands or red bills. Using text messages, emails and the facility to pay at any time directly over the phone or online gives consumers more choice and encourages them to make contact. It also increases opportunities to contact them, UTILITY WEEK | 27TH MAY - 2ND JUNE 2016 | 27

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