SOUTHERN Water has been forced to pay a record £126million in fines and customer rebates to over four million households following a “shocking” Ofwat investigation.
The industry water regulator has uncovered failures in the firm’s sewage treatment sites and found that it deliberately mislead on its performance.
1 Southern Water has been ordered to pay £126million in fines and customer rebatesCredit: Southern Water
The penalty package will see the water firm pay 4.2million households a rebate of at least £61 over the next five years, Ofwat said.
It found that the company had not operated several wastewater treatments works properly, which led to spills of wastewater into the environment.
Southern Water also manipulated its wastewater sampling process, meaning it misreported the performance of sewage treatment sites. This way it could avoid penalties by Ofwat.
The penalty package is, given the size of the firm, the largest the regulator has ever imposed.
Southern Water will refund £123million to customers through their bills and pay a fine of £3million.
The rebate includes £91million in penalties Southern Water had avoided and an extra £32million of payments as recognition of its failures.
How to get the rebateHERE’S all you need to know about the penalty package and how to get a rebate.
Southern Water customers who pay wastewater charges will be eligible for the refund.
They can expect a rebate on their bills of £61, starting with £17 in April 2020 and £11 in each of the following four years, although the actual amount could increase with inflation.
The water firm is only giving rebates to households who are customers at some point between April 2020 and March 2025, so if you’re no longer a customer, you won’t receive any money.
If you’re not a customer during the whole time period, you’ll receive a partial refund.
If you’re still with the firm, you should sit tight for now as you’ll only be refunded from next year.
Southern Water says it’ll contact eligible customers with more details nearer the time.
Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher said: “What we found in this case is shocking.
“In all, it shows the company was being run with scant regard for its responsibilities to society and the environment.
“It was not just the poor operational performance, but the co-ordinated efforts to hide and deceive customers of the fact that are so troubling.”
She added: “It is now for Southern Water, under its new leadership, and with the improvements it is introducing, to show it has learnt from this unacceptable behaviour and can be trusted again.”
The Environment Agency is now investigating Southern Water and the environmental impact of its actions.
Southern Water’s chief executive, Ian McAulay, said: “We are profoundly sorry for these failures and have been working very hard to understand past failings and implement the changes required to ensure we better deliver for our customers and meet the standards they deserve.”
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In December 2016, Southern Water was fined £2million for dumping raw sewage in sea and Margate beach.
In September last year, it was also one of three water companies warned by watchdog over customer complaints.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove has threatened to give more powers to the water regulator in order to combat the rising charges.
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