What do the public really think about the water industry?

“I didn’t realise they did so much”

“It’s something I never really think about, turn the tap on and it’s there.”

“We really do take the water company for granted.”

“Now that I know what else they do I feel we get even more value for money”

These are just a few of the comments we have received from customers of water companies over the last few years.

The responses came during a variety of research projects we have carried out for a range of water firms to inform the development of their five-year business plans. In September they submitted those plans to the regulator, Ofwat.

Arguably the industry has never been under more scrutiny. The 2018 summer heatwave conjured up the possibility of hosepipe bans, and the media often drew attention to the potentially more negative aspects of the water industry such as debt levels, profits and board member remuneration.

But our research often showed another side to the story.

Surprised – and supportive

Much of our work was focused on the reactions to the future investment plans of the water companies, gauging where customers would like the money spent, and how much they were willing to pay.

In the main we discovered the general public was surprised to learn of the scale of the work required to guarantee we have clean water to drink and waste water safely removed.

Customers were largely supportive of the water company’s future plans and often held them in high regard. This was because:

  • Importance: customers rely on their water supply and sewage everyday
  • Reliability: very few had experienced any problems with their water supply or waste water and when there was an issue, the water companies were usually very responsive and quick to help
  • High quality: most had no complaints at all about the quality of their water
  • Good value: for most, water was one of their lowest household bills
  • Price stability: water bills were seen as relatively stable (useful for household budgeting), especially in comparison with other privatised industries such as energy, telecoms and the railways, which often seemed to leap up in price for no apparent reason
  • Extra value: when informed that their water bill also covered investments in protecting the environment, improving river and sea water quality many often felt they got even more value than they previously realised.

Slightly worrying for the industry is that many admitted that they tended to take water for granted and rarely thought about it: they turn the tap on and it is there.  As such, perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing water companies is how best to communicate the wide range of investments and services they provide, and the work that goes on behind the scenes.

But that is what’s needed to ensure customers across the country become more aware of where their money goes – and how their bill is used to pay for far more than just water arriving cleanly from their taps.


Find out more about the work we’ve done within the water sector by contacting Richard Bryan on richard.bryan@qaresearch.co.uk