Photograph by Andrew Hastings.
“A duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows into inland and coastal waters. A sewerage undertaker must, as soon as reasonable, take such steps as are necessary to demonstrate improvement in the performance of sewerage systems.”
However, although this wording had been supported by the House of Lords, last Friday the government proposed alternative wording as follows:-
“A sewerage undertaker whose area is wholly or mainly in England must secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impact of discharges from the undertaker’s storm overflows….reducing adverse impacts on the environment, and reducing adverse impacts on public health.”
This change significantly affects the responsibility placed on water companies to clean up their act by improving the network and infrastructure.
Campaigners consider this a cop-out – and a stitch up.
Whitstable residents responded by withholding payment to Southern Water.
South East Water PO Box 305 Sheffield S95 1AP
I am in receipt of a water rates bill from you of £318.95 comprised of:-
- Water supplied to me by South East Water, amounting to £150.87.
- A wastewater charge from Southern Water of £168.08.
I have enclosed a cheque to you, South East Water, for water supplied on this account but I am withholding payment for the wastewater charge from Southern Water for the following reasons – and I would be grateful if you would inform the company of this.
This summer, following the biggest ever investigation by the Environment Agency, which uncovered the worst environmental crime in the 25-year history of the agency, Southern Water was found guilty of 51 counts of “knowingly permitting unauthorised entry to coastal waters of poisonous, noxious or polluting matter or waste matter or sewage effluent”, namely untreated sewage. Each charge represented months, and in some cases a whole year’s worth of discharge at different sewage plants – including here in Kent.
The judge said at the time: “These offences show a shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment, for precious and delicate ecosystems and coastlines, for human health, and for fisheries and other legitimate businesses that operate in the coastal waters”. He also added that Southern Water had a history of “previous and persistent pollution of the environment”, which had resulted in 168 previous offences and cautions. However, he also pointed out that “There is no evidence the company took any notice of the penalties imposed or the remarks of the courts. Its offending simply continued.” He stated that the fine he imposed of £90m should be a deterrent to Southern Water and other companies, but Ofwat claimed the illegal dumping of sewage in this way and over that period of time had actually helped Southern Water avoid penalties of more than £90m – so I fail to see how fining this company can possibly result in anything other than higher bills for consumers like myself to whom this cost will inevitably be transferred.
Having spoken about this issue on BBC Radio Kent, I was disappointed that no one at executive level at Southern Water appears willing to engage properly with consumers via the media on this issue. Instead, the company seems to think that statements from its press department, claiming that a few million will be found to upgrade infrastructure over time, will suffice. Furthermore, in spite of this shocking scandal, I understand Southern Water’s CEO, Ian McAulay, received a £550,900 bonus, which, with his other benefits brought his total remuneration to over £1m.
It cannot be right for criminal activity to be rewarded; for families to have been forced from beaches and out of the sea, for residents to have had to sweep sewage from a footbridge so that local children do not have to tread in excrement on their way to school and for Southern Water and its shareholders to continue to make huge profits from all this, claiming high salaries and paying dividends to shareholders in the process, so I am therefore exercising my consumer rights by withholding payment to Southern Water.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that “services must be provided with reasonable care and skill.”
In my opinion, Southern Water has clearly not done so when dealing with local wastewater – though it has seen fit to reward itself and still claims payment from its customers.
I understand that I am within my rights to call on Southern Water to “fix the problem” or “offer a price reduction” and that I am legally entitled to expect the problem to be fixed within a “reasonable time”.
I also understand that I may suggest a figure to commence negotiation and in the light of all of the above, I am willing to offer Southern Water one single penny – a figure many would consider over-generous in the circumstances – when what is clearly required is for Southern Water to compensate its customers for the harm it has caused, not only to them but to our environment.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Mrs J. Wassmer
Steven Wheeler & Emma Gibson
Dear Southern Water
With reference to our last water bill issued by Southeast Water, it explains that the bill is split into two parts: for the provision of wastewater treatment provided by you; and the supply of fresh water provided by Southeast Water. We understand that Southeast Water collect the wastewater treatment charge on your behalf and pass the money onto you.
We pay by direct debit and have no dispute with Southeast Water and are happy to continue paying for our water usage. We do however object to paying you the charge for dealing with our waste-water, which on our last bill amounted to £171.45.
Throughout the summer, you have continued to discharge our untreated sewage along with that of other local residents, directly into the sea in which our children regularly swim. If we wanted our children to swim in their own faeces we would carry our waste to the beach and dump it in the sea. The thought is abhorrent and we think you will agree that it is unacceptable to be charged by Southern Water to treat our sewage when you fail to do so. We also believe that we should be compensated for those days on which Southern Water knowingly discharged our sewage into the sea.
Accordingly, we intend to reduce our monthly direct debit payment, so that it only covers the cost of the fresh water that is provided to us by Southeast Water. The balance will be withheld by us, until such time that Southern Water can satisfy us that our payment has been used to treat our sewage. We have discussed the matter over the phone with Southeast Water and subsequently written to them.
Profits and bonuses should only be taken when your contractual liabilities have been met which is not currently the case.
Steven Wheeler & Emma Gibson
I refer to my recent water bill which in the explanation is split into two elements:
The first part is for South Eastern Water in the sum of £141.78. I have no dispute with you and enclose my cheque in that sum.
The second part relates to sewerage charges which you undertake to forward to Southern Water.
I have no intention of contributing to the £90 million fine recently imposed on that company for criminal activity.
Throughout the summer Southern Water has continued to send my untreated sewerage along with that of other local people directly into the sea which I use on a daily basis to swim from April to October.
I find the thought of swimming in a mixture of local sewerage and seawater totally abhorrent and not something that I should be charged for.
If I paid someone to clear out my garage and take rubbish away to the tip but instead they fly tipped it into the countryside I would be upset. Canterbury City Council prosecutes offenders for that type of activity yet Southern Water continues to fly tip sewage into my bathing water with impunity and spending my contributions on both director’s bonus payments and shareholder dividends rather than treating sewerage which hitherto I have paid for.
Accordingly I will not be paying the £158.63 claimed by Southern Water until such time as I am satisfied that ALL my payment is being used for the intended purpose and I am compensated for the days on which I was advised not to swim in the sea.
Profits should only be taken and bonuses paid when contractual liabilities have been fulfilled. This is not currently the case.
Please pass this letter on to Southern Water.
Interview with Julie Wassmer on BBC Radio Kent about why she, and others, have withheld payment to Southern Water. At 3:25:40.
Julie Wassmer on BBC Radio Kent, talking about Bob Geldoff’s support for the boycott. Begins at 3:19:15.
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