Water companies ordered by regulator Ofwat to cut bills due to poor performance

Ofwat water regulator
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On 26 September, Ofwat – the water services regulation authority – ordered water companies in England and Wales to return a combined £114m to customers for failing to meet performance targets.

Companies fell short in terms of basics like customer satisfaction, pollution, and improving infrastructure. The regulator’s decision also comes amid a long-running scandal over privatised water firms pumping raw sewage into waterways.

Ofwat: water firms fall short

Ofwat usually ranks water providers as ‘leading’, ‘average’, or ‘lagging’. However, this year no company achieved a place in the leading category. 
Of the 17 firms in England and Wales, seven fell into the bottom rank. These were Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, Anglian Water, Dŵr Cymru, Southern Water, Bristol Water and South East Water. The list of companies ordered to give money back to customers is longer still: 
  • Affinity Water
  • Anglian Water
  • Dŵr Cymru
  • Hafren Dyfrdwy
  • Northumbrian Water
  • SES Water
  • South East Water
  • South West Water
  • Southern Water
  • Thames Water
  • Yorkshire Water
Thames Water, in particular, was ordered to return the highest amount at £101m. This is despite having recently secured a £750m cash injection from shareholders, allowing it to narrowly dodge renationalisation. Other firms will still be allowed to put their prices up next year. 
Ofwat chief executive David Black said in a statement:

The targets we set for companies were designed to be stretching – to drive improvements for customers and the environment.

However, our latest report shows they are falling short, leading to £114 million being returned to customers through bill reductions.

While that may be welcome to billpayers, it is very disappointing news for all who want to see the sector do better.

Government oversight?

The government announced back in July that any company and individual polluting rivers and other ecosystems would be liable for unlimited fines.

Regarding Ofwat’s findings, environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said:

Read on...

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Today’s Ofwat report is extremely disappointing… The fact that not a single water company is classified as ‘leading’ is unacceptable.

We have written to the CEOs of every water company in the lowest category of today’s report and my ministerial team and I will meet them in person to scrutinise their improvement plans.

She went on to add that:

billpayers should know we require the worst performers to return money directly to customers through their bills.

However, at odds with Coffey’s ‘scrutiny’, the Tories themselves have a distinct track record of spending public money on waterway pollution measures. Back in April, the environment secretary announced that public money would be used to fix the sewage-dumping mess caused by these very same privatised water companies.

Likewise, less than a month ago the government announced plans to strip back waterway protections for housing construction. This would also land the taxpayer with the bill to double investment to £280m, simply to counter the additional discharge from the new homes.

Small comforts

As such, Coffey’s promise of oversight and reduced bills rings somewhat hollow. Both water companies and the government have demonstrated their willingness to use public money to plug holes in privatised infrastructure.

So, while some customers might see a reduction in their bills, it’ll be little comfort if their money is still being used to fix the water companies’ problems through taxes rather than direct payments. Either way, England and Wales still lose out every day whilst their water is in private hands.

Featured image via Wikipedia/Ofwat, resized to 1910*1000, liscensed for the public domain. 

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

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