In a significant move, water companies in England and Wales have been directed by Ofwat, the industry regulator, to refund £114 million to customers by reducing bills due to their failure to meet performance targets. The regulator expressed concern about companies falling short on various performance metrics, including leakages, water supply, and pollution reduction.
Ofwat’s assessment revealed that none of the water companies reached the highest level of performance, with seven companies – Dŵr Cymru, Southern, Thames, Anglian, Bristol, South East, and Yorkshire Water – being categorized as “lagging,” and the remaining ten rated as “average.” None were classified as “leading.”
To incentivize water companies to meet performance targets, Ofwat set ambitious objectives for a five-year period starting in 2019. When these targets are not met, Ofwat limits the amount of money companies can collect from customers. Most of the water providers scrutinized will have to lower bills for customers in 2024-25 instead of providing lump-sum refunds.
The companies required to reduce bills include Affinity Water, Anglian Water, Dŵr Cymru, Hafren Dyfrdwy, Northumbrian Water, SES Water, South East Water, South West Water (South West area), South West Water (Bristol area), Southern Water, Thames Water, and Yorkshire Water. The exact bill reduction for each customer depends on location and inflation rates.
Ofwat’s chief executive, David Black, expressed disappointment in the industry’s performance and its impact on customer satisfaction. He emphasized that regaining public trust necessitates better service delivery for customers and improved environmental stewardship.
Thames Water faces the largest refund obligation, amounting to over £101 million, followed by Southern Water, which must refund £43 million. Thames Water, serving 15 million people, recently secured additional funding to address issues related to sewage discharges and leaks.
While some companies are required to repay customers, others, such as Severn Trent and United Utilities, have been granted permission to increase charges in the coming financial year due to their satisfactory performance. Severn Trent Water will be allowed to charge an additional £88 million to its 4.6 million households and businesses, while United Utilities can increase charges by £25 million.
Ofwat has initiated investigations into all 11 water and wastewater companies, with six of them facing live enforcement cases regarding potential violations related to sewage discharges into the environment. Dŵr Cymru and South West Water are also under scrutiny for the accuracy of their reporting on leakages and consumption.
Mike Keil, senior director at the Consumer Council for Water, emphasized the importance of customers receiving the services they deserve and the fairness of receiving refunds when water companies fail to deliver as promised.
Water bills are calculated differently depending on whether customers have water meters. For non-metered customers, bills typically consist of a fixed charge covering administrative costs and a charge based on the rateable value of their property. Customers with meters are billed based on their actual water consumption, with additional fixed charges. Adjustments may apply for individuals on low incomes.
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey expressed disappointment with the industry’s overall performance and called it “unacceptable” that not a single water company achieved a “leading” classification. She highlighted the need for robust action to address sewage discharges and infrastructure investments in the face of increasing environmental pressures.
Water UK, the industry body, acknowledged the challenges in meeting the regulator’s stringent targets and emphasized the necessity of significant investment to secure water supply and protect the environment. Companies in England and Wales are expected to present detailed investment plans in the coming week.