All English incumbents except South East Water will exit the business retail market from April. DEFRA announced this week that it had had a whopping response after opening its exit applications process; 15 companies, including all nine English WASCs, applied. All applicants were granted permission to leave by the secretary of state, her decisions coming ahead of schedule and no doubt delivering welcome early certainty to the industry.
In all, 97% of business customers will consequently find themselves with a new supplier when the market opens, though that number masks the detail of what have been dubbed “hard” and “soft” exits. Three companies – Thames, Southern and Portsmouth – have taken the hard exit option, selling on their non household customers to independent third parties, Castle Water and Business Stream. All the rest have exited to compete, transferring their business customers to an associated retailer to enable them to combine in and out of area non household retail operations and, in most cases, compete nationally.
South East Water is the exception. It did not apply to exit and will trade in-area as South East Water Choice. It’s out of area operations will be separate and trade as Water Choice South East.