Ofwat today outlined how it could open up water and sewerage to competition, allowing companies which currently have geographical monopolies to enter direct competition.
Ofwat propose a progressive, step-by-step approach to opening markets to competition, allowing benefits to be proven.
Early priorities would be the development of competitive retail services markets and tackling barriers to new entry to upstream water resources markets. Progressive vertical separation of companies, including separated accounts and price controls, will be important in enabling competition to develop.
Ofwat Chief Executive Regina Finn said: "We want to achieve an efficient and innovative sector which is able to respond to the challenges facing it, such as climate change, rising consumer expectations and growing population in water-scarce areas. Competition can help deliver that.
"The current scope for competition in the water and sewerage sectors is severely limited by legislation, is confined to a small number of business customers and has not developed successfully.
"We propose that more of the market is opened progressively, starting with all business customers. In time households could be able to choose their water supplier, when the market is ready and safeguards are in place.
"Competition will drive benefits such as greater responsiveness to customers' needs, innovative approaches to adapting to climate change and downward pressure on costs.
"Competition can also help respond to the environmental challenge of water scarcity, which the Government highlighted in its water strategy. Markets could spur innovation in developing and making better use of water resources and more water efficiency services, supporting sustainable water abstraction.
"As markets develop, we will look for opportunities to withdraw regulation. We will continue to robustly challenge companies on price and service delivery until competition is strong enough to protect consumers."
The document we are publishing invites comments on our recommendations to Government for legislative change, and contributes to the independent Government-commissioned independent review of competition and innovation in water markets being led by Professor Martin Cave.