Consumers in England could get choice of water services

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Millions of householders in England could soon be given more choice over which company supplies part of their water services.

The government has announced that there could be limited competition between suppliers by the end of the parliament in 2020.

The choice will involve services such as billing and customer services, but not the water supply itself.

In Scotland, business customers can already choose such suppliers.

From April 2017, companies and big organisations in England will also have the ability to switch to a different provider.

Now the regulator, Ofwat, is to examine the costs and benefits of household customers having some degree of choice.

Ofwat's chief executive, Cathryn Ross, said it could mean cheaper services for consumers.

"Such a market in the water and wastewater sector could see customers become more engaged, push prices down, service up, and encourage more efficient use of an increasingly stretched resource," she said.

Ofwat will report back by the summer of 2016.

'Click and collect' pharmacies

The action on competition in the water industry was one of a number of measures announced by the Treasury.

It said it also wanted to reduce barriers in legal services, in order to provide more competition for solicitors.

As a result, legal services such as conveyancing, probate and litigation could be offered by other providers, such as accountancy firms.

Some of the big ones - KPMG, Ernst and Young and PwC - already provide legal services to their clients.

The Treasury also said it wanted more competition between pharmacies, with a better online delivery system, such as click-and-collect.

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Image caption The practice of locking mobile phones could be brought to an end

'£470 savings'

The government is also considering forcing dentists to be more transparent about their prices.

At the moment, dentists have to display their NHS prices clearly, but they do not have to show the prices for private treatment.

In addition, the mobile phone industry is being told that it may have to end the practice of locking phones to a network at the end of a contract.

The government will begin a consultation next year on whether the locking of phones should be banned outside any initial contract period.

At the moment some phone companies charge as much as £20 to unlock a phone.

Such a change would make it easier for consumers to switch to another provider at the end of a contract.

Consumer groups have already campaigned in favour of such a change.

Overall the Treasury said that, in total, consumers could save as much as £470 a year, as a result of increased competition and price transparency across the range of services.

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