More Letters Refusing to Pay Southern Water Bills
Dear Southern Water/South East Water Ltd,
Please find enclosed a cheque for payment of £96.35, which is the amount specified in your bill dated 5 November 2021, covering the ‘water in’ supply charges as laid out in your bill.
I have always paid my bills to you promptly and in full. However, in this instance, I regret to inform you that I am in all conscience unable to send you the other remuneration you have requested, i.e., for ‘water out’, at a subtotal of £111.33.
This sum purportedly represents ‘waste water returned to the sewer’ from the property, and ‘the cost of treating and recycling.’
It would appear that your company has been in dereliction of its duty with regard to the provision of this service. Until this duty is fulfilled, it would be absurd and unjust to expect to be paid for it, I suggest.
When Judge Justice Johnson visited a £90 million fine upon you for ‘thousands of illegal discharges of sewage that polluted rivers and coastal waters’ it was noted that these criminal ‘offences are aggravated by … previous persistent pollution of the environment over very many years.” The entire south-eastern coast of England has suffered despoliation by corporate irresponsibility, which has devastating consequences not only for our local environment but for our planet’s ecosystems.
It is well known that since privatisation of the water industry in 1989 most providers are in the hands of private equity consortia, often foreign owned. The industry is not run in the public interest. In 2013’s report by the New Policy Institute, The Water Industry: A Case to Answer, it was suggested that ‘a probity test for all those providing water and sewerage services should set out the standards required in providing services and … an ethical charter around services to the public. Such changes could ‘refocus the industry back to once again providing a public service, not simply a vehicle for making vast returns on. Without reform the industry will continue to make excessive profits and avoid any real change which would benefit the consumer both today and importantly into the future.’ (1)
Questions asked then remain relevant: ‘Can high profits – and bills that rise go on rising faster than inflation – really be justified?’ and ‘What external pressure is the industry subject to, especially from consumers who cannot boycott water in the way they can multi-national coffee chains?’
With regard to the possibility of such a boycott, it seems that public outrage has now reached a level that many people are now no longer willing to pay for a failed service that contributes to the degradation of the environment, knowing that ‘the industry continues to deliver handsome profits and dividends and that as a result, both private equity and overseas investors have significantly increased their ownership within the sector … the industry has become an easy vehicle to make handsome returns at the expense of hard pressed consumers.’ After all, we are aware that if we as individual households were to go to the beach and throw our excrement into the sea, we would rightly meet with public opprobrium; why then should a company assume the right to engage in such disgusting behaviour?
Disregard for public health is staggering; everyone knows sewage contains harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Bacteria in human waste, such as E. coli, contaminates water and results in illnesses such as gastroenteritis, Campylobacteriosis, Cryptosporidiosis, Escherichia coli Diarrhea, Encephalitis, Gastroenteritis, Giardiasis, Hepatitis A, Leptospirosis, and it is also a vector for outbreaks of hepatitis C. Other harmful solids and chemicals in sewage damage water that supports wildlife, e.g. reducing the ability of fish to live.
I note that your bill was accompanied by a leaflet requesting support for the charity Water Aid, to help people elsewhere to ‘access clean water and sanitation.’ This is an admirable cause, which I support. However, the irony and hypocrisy of this leaflet being included in a mail-out from a major environmental polluter and destroyer beggars belief.
As a recent report showed, the nine privatised water company shareholders made more than £6.8 billion in just five years, while 2.4 billion litres of water was wasted through leaks every single day in England. In short, as a GMB National Officer, has said: “Water bosses and shareholders are trousering fortunes, while billions of gallons leak away and raw sewage is dumped into the sea.’ ‘The industry is rotten and needs to be cleaned up. If water barons won’t funnel their monstrous profits into repairing infrastructure and preventing environmental damage, it’s time to take back the tap and bring water back into public hands.’ (2)
Public ownership is where water belongs, because – contrary to the tenets of capitalist ownership – water is part of humanity’s commons, a natural resource provided by the earth’s cycles. It should not be regarded as a commodity for the enrichment of unaccountable profiteers, CEOs and shareholders. Those entrusted with the responsibility of treating and providing water and sanitation services should not be callously using the seas and rivers as dumps for effluent. It is self-evident that this is poisoning the very basis of existence, devastating the habitat of the oceans, destroying the delicate balance of ecosystems on which all life depends.
As the water defenders protesting against pollution in indigenous and campaigning organisations say: ‘water is life.’ ‘Rather than treating nature as property under the law, the time has come to recognize that nature and all our natural communities have the right to exist, maintain and regenerate their vital cycles. And we – the people – have the legal authority and responsibility to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems … It’s time to protect our water and honour the earth.’ (3)
All this points to an overwhelming need for a paradigm shift away from the dominant view of nature, and a recognition that we as humans are a part of an intricate whole, with no entitlement to exploit or damage it. It seems doubtful that Southern Water will be cognisant of this, as I understand you are a company registered in Jersey and privately owned (through a series of holding companies) by Greensands Holding Limited, which is in turn owned by a series of investment and infrastructure funds, including UBS Asset Management (UK), JP Morgan Asset Management (US), Whitehelm Capital (Australia) and Hermes Infrastructure Funds (UK), amongst others. (4) Citizens and civil society groups must therefore take whatever action we can to demand protection for our world.
I have read recent statements promising overdue infrastructure investment to improve the situation; however, until such time as changes are implemented and the level of service that we are entitled to is provided, it seems that as customers our only recourse is to withhold payment. As many pensioners are among those experiencing unfair financial stress involving the cost of utilities, I am sure it will be apparent to you that we are naturally disinclined to pay for services that are not being delivered.
I look forward to paying my whole bill again at a time when I can do so in the knowledge that my payment is used for the provision of essential services, as it should be.
Dear Southern Water,
As discussed with South East Water on the phone today, I currently pay my water bill by direct debit, and have no problem with their service for ‘water in’. However as I’m completely appalled by the dumping of waste sewage into the sea by Southern Water I wish to withhold the ‘water out’ payment within my bill.
My family and I are regular swimmers and nature lovers and have been distressed by the sanitary ware and faeces visible on our local beach not to mention what we have been swimming in and swallowing- Disgusting! And I’m further disgusted by Southern Water’s obvious avoidance at dealing with this situation. You seem quite happy to pay the fines rather than deal with your harmful pollution issue… and of course take the bonuses.
I have never broken the law or indeed never not paid a bill, so this is new to me, but I feel strongly that I should not be paying a company who says they will safely and responsibly get rid of my waste, when they are not. I understand that it is my right to ask Southern Water to fix this issue or offer a reduction until such times that they can provide the service we thought we were paying for. Why would anyone wish to pay for a company to take their waste and untreated, dump it back in the sea poisoning us, our children and wildlife?
According to my last bill I was charged £177.53 for 6 months (non) treatment of waste or ‘water out’ – I will be withholding what works out as approx. £29.50 a month and adjusting my direct debit accordingly. Once again I state that I am happy to pay South East Water for ‘water in’ just not Southern Water for ‘water out’. I will hold the balance of the money withheld until Southern Water can convince me that they have changed their disgusting and illegal behaviour.
This letter has been sent to both Southern Water and Southeast Water.
Rob Morris and Fenella Fudge.
Dear Southern Water,
We’d like to convey our frustration and anger at your repeated release of sewage into the sea and other watercourses for which you’re responsible. As your customers, this is equivalent to us hiring a skip for the safe removal of waste, only to find the company we’ve paid has fly-tipped it. Consequently we have cancelled our direct debit. We know of many people in our town considering the same action. Your behaviour is morally repugnant and utterly shameful.
You appear to be using our money to reward your executives and shareholders instead of investing in the decent and safe service we pay for and should reasonably expect. With the disastrous record of 83 hours of discharge last month alone, how do you justify the £550,900 bonus paid to Ian McAulay after record fines for catastrophic and ongoing negligence? Why are you rewarding his utter failure to make the business fit for purpose? Do your executives live in the area for which they have responsibility? If not, would they tolerate such contempt shown for their families’ welfare and access to safe water in their area?
Rob Morris and Fenella Fudge.
Complaints Southern Water PO Box 564 Darlington DL1 9ZG
More News on the Sewage Scandal:
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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