Tom Melhuish 8 min read

Understanding the British Water Industry

The British water network includes 1,000 reservoirs, 2,500 treatment plants, and more than 700,000 kilometres of pipes. It supplies clean water to over 25 million homes and 6 million businesses – the British water industry is of a substantial size.

Ipsos Mori, a market research firm, has found the British water and sewerage services to be the second-highest rated in the world.  UK water supply is of universal high quality with consistently safe and pure supplies.

The British water industry is privatised, and it is managed separately by numerous for-profit companies and government-appointed not-for-profit entities. Here’s our simple guide to the roles of these organisations and understanding the British water industry and the charges which they incur.

The Regulators

The regulator for England and Wales, Ofwat, and the Water Industry Commission for Scotland are non-ministerial government departments.

They aim to:

  • Protect the interests of the consumers by promoting effective competition.
  • Ensure all organisations involved in the supply of water properly carry out their functions.
  • Ensure there is sufficient private investment in infrastructure to protect future supply.
  • Oversee the suppliers of water and ensure they deliver public value.
  • Promote economy and efficiency in the water sector.
  • Regulate the charges levied by water suppliers on consumers and businesses.

The regulators also aim to encourage best practices within the industry asking all participants to be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted.

The Wholesalers

The water wholesalers have regionally appointed companies that own and operate pipes, mains and, treatment works across the UK for the British water industry.

England and Wales are divided into eleven regions with a separate wholesaler for each area. Scotland has a single water wholesaler, Scottish Water.

The wholesalers collect and store water, treat it to drinkable standards then pipe it to homes and businesses across the country. They are also responsible for the removal and treatment of used water so that it can be safely returned to rivers and the sea.

The wholesalers make their money by selling water to the suppliers at the wholesale rate. The wholesale rate of water is determined by the regulator and is dependent on the scarcity of water in each region.

The Water Quality Inspectors

The government has appointed independent bodies to provide reassurance over the quality of drinking water provided by the wholesalers. The Drinking Water Inspectorate checks the quality of supply in England and Wales while the Drinking Water Quality Regulator performs quality checks in Scotland.

The Suppliers

The suppliers are for-profit companies with a license to supply water services to the end-users of water. For households, the supplier of water is a regional Company appointed by the regulator. For businesses and other organisations, supply can be provided by any company holding a water supply license. There are currently 20 such suppliers operating across Britain.

The suppliers purchase water from the wholesalers then charge this separately to individual households and businesses.

Find out how suppliers determine their charges in our guide.

The supplier is responsible for taking water meter readings to assess the usage of its customers. The suppliers are the point of contact for the users of water providing them customer services.