Water companies facing opposition after revealing intention to seek £96 billion from customers

UK water companies are facing public opposition after revealing their intention to seek £96 billion from customers to address sewage leaks, construct new reservoirs, and reduce water loss. The primary water and sewerage firms are seeking approval from Ofwat, the regulator, for their 2025-2030 spending plans, nearly doubling investment in clean water, environmental protection, and future water resources.

Households were informed that, by 2030, they would need to pay an average of £156 more annually to fund treatment facilities, sewage management, and reservoir construction. However, some households may face more substantial increases. For instance, Southern Water, which incurred a £90 million fine for illegal sewage discharge, aims to raise bills by £262 to £674 annually by 2030. Thames Water, which has faced financial stability concerns, is pursuing a £175 per year bill increase, bringing household bills to £598 annually in 2030.

Water UK, the industry association, emphasised that the £96 billion investment represents a near doubling of the current funding for the privatised water system, with the potential to generate 30,000 jobs and 4,000 apprenticeships.

Clean water advocates argue that customers should not be burdened with financing infrastructure upgrades that water companies should have already undertaken to comply with their operational permits, such as preventing sewage discharges or maintaining treatment works’ capacity.

Becky Malby, from the Ilkley clean river campaign, stated that customers should not be expected to cover the projected £71 million investment to reduce sewage spills into the River Wharfe, which holds bathing water status. She maintained that Yorkshire Water should be responsible for these improvements, as customers have already paid for sewage treatment and infrastructure maintenance.

Mike Keil, CEO of the Consumer Council for Water, urged water companies to cover the costs of rectifying existing environmental compliance failures, rather than shifting the burden to households.

Gary Carter, national officer at the GMB union, argued that water companies should be held accountable for the condition of England’s rivers and waterways, and the expenses for their restoration should not fall on the public.

Ofwat is currently investigating companies for shocking shortcomings in their water treatment processes, while the Environment Agency is conducting a criminal investigation into potential illegal sewage discharges. Last week, Ofwat mandated companies to reimburse customers as a penalty for poor performance.

David Henderson, CEO of Water UK, defended the increased customer bills, emphasising that these substantial investments are necessary to secure the water supply in the face of climate change and a growing population.