Water UK to ‘recoup’ sewer investment by passing cost onto customers

Water UK to ‘recoup’ sewer investment by passing cost onto customers
Courtesy BBC News.

Today, the BBC reported that water suppliers in England “were ready to spend £10 billion on tackling sewage spills” in the country. This comes as it was revealed that there were 300 000 separate incidents of raw sewage spills last year across the nation, amounting to an average of 824 a day


Outrage was sparked across the country as, alongside the horrendous disregard for public health, the nine privatised water and sewage companies in the UK paid out £1.4 billion in dividends in 2022, which was “up from £540 million the previous year”


Water UK (the representative for all nine water and sewage companies) issued an apology through their chair, Ruth Kelly: 


“The message from the water and sewage industry today is clear: we are sorry. More should have been done to address the issue of spillages sooner and the public is right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches”


The companies pledge to invest £10 billion in renewing sewers and preventative measures for future spills, although welcome, come with a serious caveat. Whilst initially investors will provide the funding, it has been made clear that the companies will recoup these costs through future price hikes in water bills. Worryingly, this comes despite bills for consumers have already risen by 7.5% this year. 


impACT suggests that this ‘recouping’ will further worsen the nations financial health. An apology will not ease the further increase of household costs through water bill rises, especially during a so-called ‘cost-of-living crisis’. These measures are tantamount to price gouging and impACT demands the issue to be addressed in this manner.


It is clear that whilst Water UK has stated it’s apology, it’s actions illustrate a complete lack of ingenuity. If the companies were truly apologetic, they would deal with the issues they have created themselves in an internal manner, rather than building an apologetic facade and then punishing their customers. This becomes a particularly pertinent point as the public already pays for environmental protection through taxes.


Marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), in an interview with the BBC expressed the same sentiment:


“The UK public has already paid for environmental protection from sewage … whilst the water industry rakes it in, this investment by Water UK must come out of water company profits, not from the bill payer”. 


The UK’s water systems were already in a desperate state. Last year, the Commons Environmental Audi Committee chair, Conservative MP Philip Dune, stated that the UK’s rivers were a “chemical cocktail” of raw sewage, microplastics and slurry. It is inevitable that the companies disregard for spills will have had catastrophic damage on environmental health. 


impACT International implores the UK government to consider the clear contempt that private water and sewage companies have held for environmental and public health. At a time when environmental protection is tantamount to our species survival, they must ask themselves whether for-profit companies have the best interests of our nation at heart, or are they more concerned with engorging their investors take-home. It is certainly time to place public health, rather than investor wealth, at the heart of policy. 


Oliver Wood


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