Six English Water Companies Face Legal Action Over Pollution and Overcharging Allegations
Six English water companies, including Severn Trent Water, Thames Water, United Utilities, Anglian Water, Yorkshire Water, and Northumbrian Water, are facing legal action over allegations of under-reporting pollution discharges and overcharging customers. Professor Carolyn Roberts, an environmental and water consultant, plans to bring multiple cases to the Competition Appeal Tribunal on behalf of 20 million customers, seeking over £800 million in compensation. She claims that the companies failed to disclose the number of sewage discharges, resulting in unfair overcharging of households.
Professor Roberts, represented by Leigh Day Solicitors, is initiating her first claim against Severn Trent Water, which serves eight million people across the Midlands and parts of Wales. This claim is estimated to be worth £330 million. Campaigners have previously raised concerns about the pollution levels in the River Severn, with an estimated 2,600 separate sewage discharges in 2021. Professor Roberts also plans to take action against the other water companies mentioned.
Public anger has been growing over the pumping of sewage into rivers and seas in the UK. Earlier this year, industry body Water UK issued a public apology for not acting quickly enough on spills and acknowledged the poor quality of rivers and beaches. The government has promised to crack down on the issue and is considering unlimited fines for companies found guilty of polluting.
Water UK has dismissed Professor Roberts’s legal action as “highly speculative” and “entirely without merit.” Severn Trent Water has also refuted her claims, stating that they are “completely wrong.” However, Professor Roberts argues that the water companies have violated competition laws by misleading the Environment Agency and regulator Ofwat.
Leigh Day, the law firm representing Professor Roberts, describes this case as the first environmental collective action of its kind. They invite anyone who has paid a water bill to one of the companies since April 2020 (or April 2017 for Severn Trent) to come forward and claim compensation if the case is successful. Leigh Day expects any potential payouts to be funded by the companies and their shareholders, rather than through increased bills for customers.
Zoe Mernick-Levene, a partner at Leigh Day, emphasizes the significance of these claims, stating that they seek compensation for millions of customers who have been paying higher water bills. She hopes that this legal action will send a message to water companies that they cannot unlawfully pollute waterways and mislead regulators without consequences.
A spokesperson for Water UK asserts that the claim is “highly speculative” and without merit, highlighting that over 99% of sewage works comply with legal requirements. Severn Trent Water also denies the claims, stating that any pollutions are reported to the Environment Agency and that contrary claims are entirely false.