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  • by Karma Loveday

United Utilities' retail incentive schemes drive greatest upgrade in occupancy data

United Utilities has reported that a combination of two incentive schemes it is offering water retailers has led to the biggest improvement in occupancy data of any intervention since the market opened in 2017.

The wholesaler is paying retailers who identify businesses which have slipped through the billing net, through the Gap Site Incentive Scheme launched in April, and the Vacancy Incentive Scheme (for false vacancies) launched in October. United Utilities said it was the first water company to offer both schemes. So far, more than 4,000 business premises in the North West have been brought back into charge, with more than 16,000 applications for corrections received.

Paul Stelfox, head of business market services, explained: “Some business premises are using water without being billed for it either because there is a gap in our data for that site or it’s incorrectly marked as a vacant site. That’s a problem for other water customers because there is a limit to the total revenue we can recover - therefore the more customers who are paying for their water the lower we can keep everyone’s bills. But for retailers, the cost of bringing these premises back into charge was often higher than the tight profit margins they operate to.”

Michele Marshall–Jackson, head of market operations at retailer Water Plus, commented: “Site use can change in a short time, including being converted to living accommodation, and some businesses do not realise they need to inform a retailer when they move into - or leave - a property even if they have received a letter, so, on top of raising awareness around this, it’s also increasing improved data sharing across the industry.”

Barry Millar, director of Waterscan, welcomed the schemes as a market first in providing means and motive to improve market data at source, a fundamental tenet of a successful water retail market. He said: “We are proud to assist in the biggest improvement in market occupancy data since market opening. Waterscan recognises the part this and other incentive schemes can play in addressing issues as varied as non-revenue water, water efficiency and financial due diligence, combining to provide fairness and accuracy of billing, mitigate water scarcity and non household market performance.

“The competitive landscape of this scheme is not without its challenges, but Waterscan has invested heavily to ensure we are well placed to provide swift and accurate results, believing this scheme sets a precedent for the entire English water market.”


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