Ofwat Business Customer Protection Code of Practice

One of the ways that businesses are protected in the opening of the water market is a number of rules and guidelines set on how you should be treated. Known as the “Customer Protection Code of Practice”.

Retailers represented by a third party, such as a consultant or comparison website are also held to comply with these standards, and we have put together a shorter explanation of how this affects you, in a number of different ways. For example,

Overall Service

All retailers dealing with you must be fair, transparent and honest. This is part of another aspect of the code that means putting clients at the heart of the business, with their best intentions at heart. Suppliers should use plain language and avoid jargon to ensure that the everyday consumer can clearly understand what you are telling them, and can be provided with information to enable them to make informed choices, within an appropriate and timely manner.  Of course, this also means that information given to you should be complete and accurate, with nothing misleading involved, such as hidden costs and contracts, and offer accessible and effective customer services for any questions or concerns that arise from these interactions.

Sales and marketing

If you have less than 10 employees (you are often referred to as a micro-business, and) a retailer must provide you with some basic information before switching your account or agreeing to terms and conditions with you. These details include;

  • Relevant prices and charges on tariffs that are offered to you – Including whether or not they have underlying costs and taxes, and any assumptions underlying the proposed prices, charges and tariffs. For example, if you agree on a tariff a month before the details of this change, you should be aware before you are contracted.
  • The ‘terms and conditions of supply’ that come with service levels included in your contract.
  • The type and frequency of bills and payable methods available to you. For example, whether you will be billed monthly or quarterly, and how the company will expect to receive their payments.
  • Lengthy of the contract being offered and its expiry date
  • Contact details of the retailer; this means full name, address and a phone number that does not charge premium rates to call.
  • Any rights that you have to cancel the contract cost-free
  • Any rights that you have to cancel the contract that would incur costs or fees, such as an early exit fee. This includes details of the costs or fees and the notice period you must give to avoid them.

Cooling Off Period

You should have a cooling-off period of 7 days before your switch goes ahead. This is usually free to cancel unless specified.

Third Parties acting for retailers

If a third party is acting on your behalf, your company must give written consent to confirm;

  • That the chosen third party may act on your behalf
  • The limits of authority given to that third party
  • How the fees to this chosen third parties will be paid
    If your business holds 10 people or less, the written confirmation must be provided in this template letter.

Contracts

Bill frequency, tariffs and other services you are paying your supplier for all must be transparent as part of the terms and conditions of your contract, and you should be informed as soon as possible about any changes to these.

If your retailer sends your terms and conditions in a letter or email, this needs to be written in plain and simple language to avoid jargon and confusion for a client.

If your contract is due to expire, your retailer must contact you at least 30 days in advance to tell you;

  • That you contract is expiring and when
  • If you are able to renew your contract on the same terms as before, and how
  • Other options are available from the supplier for your contract. This includes their current charges and if you are on the cheapest available deal.

Your retailer should be telling you about;

  • The rights you have to dispute the money you owe under your contract
  • How it is possible for you to make a complaint and the time constraints (e.g, deadlines) you have to do so
  • If there are options for reasonable payment plans for outstanding debt
  • What a retailer can do to stop you from switching to a new retailer until your debt to them is paid in full, and what will happen if you fail to pay any outstanding balance or raise a dispute about it.

Extra protection for micro-businesses

If you are a business with fewer than 10 employees, you need to know:

  • The details of any changes made in your contract as soon as they can, within reason. The minimum information considered here can be found in the “sales and marketing” section above.
  • That your retailer will provide you with any information you request to receive in writing, as soon as possible, within reason.
  • Your retailer must give you some minimum information (found in the “sales and marketing” section) once you renew your contract at expiry, as soon as it is reasonably practicable to make the changes.

Switching

Your new supplier should have a valid contract set up with you before they request to switch you. They also must send you at least one accurate bill or invoice annually, which is based on a reading taken from your water meter.

Suppliers may choose to take a meter reading that you submit to them, including when you give them a final meter reading before you switch. If you are a micro-business, your retailer should:

  • Send you a final bill on expiry of your contract, or within 6 weeks of your switch
  • For any outstanding debt, you should be offered a reasonable payment plan

Making a complaint

All businesses must have a good complaint handling procedure that has been proven to work in the past. This must be accessible at no cost and should be used for every complaint received. They should also have an effective alternative process (redress scheme) that is readily available to you under the circumstances that you are not fully comfortable with the current options.

Your retailer’s complaint handling process must:

  • Be in plain and clear language
  • Allow you to make complaints both in person, over the phone and in writing
  • Describe the process your supplier will take on receiving and resolving your complaint, as well as how to investigate each problem and the timescales each step should take to complete.
  • Describe any resolutions available to settle your complaint. These options may be but are not limited to
    • An apology
    • An explanation
    • Remedial action, meaning changes to services or products that may have caused offence.
    • Compensation where remedial action is not possible or is insufficient
    • Describe any rights you have to refer the complaint to a redress scheme

Code Modification and Governance arrangements

Ofwat and any appropriate supplier or person can propose a change to the Customer Protection Code of Practice. You can find the process and governance arrangements for doing this in the full Customer Protection Code of Practice linked above, but proposals may also be submitted via email at CPCOPcodechange@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk by using the proposal form available here. There have been a number of changes made to the code of practice from February 2019 to more recently in December 2020, as you can see here.

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