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Southern Water hit with record £126m penalty after ‘serious failures’

The Company faces prosecution by the Environment Agency following discovery of wastewater spills. The water regulator said the company had showed ‘scant regard for its responsibilities to society and the environment’ (Main picture courtesy of iStock )

Brad Taylor, Director at WCI Wastewater Engineering commented “Finding compliant treatment solutions and maintaining their performance can be challenging.  However, this issue highlights the importance of transparency and working with regulators to ensure that minimum standards are met.  This is true for the individual homeowner, commercial business owner and public service provider.  WCI takes pride in always referring short and long-term failings to the regulators and working with the regulators to find effective and timely solutions to problems.”

Southern Water has agreed to pay a record £126m in fines and payments to customers for “serious failures” in its sewage treatment works and for deliberately misreporting its performance. The Environment Agency is also investigating Southern Water and expects to start court proceedings soon.

Water regulator Ofwat discovered wastewater spills into the environment caused by faulty equipment and a lack of necessary investment by the company. In addition, Ofwat found that Southern Water manipulated its wastewater sampling process, which helped it mask the poor performance of a number of sewage treatment sites and avoid penalties.

“What we found in this case is shocking,” said Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher. “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.”

Southern Water will pay most of the Ofwat penalty – £123m – to customers as a rebate through their bills. Every customer will receive £61, with £17 in 2020-21 and £11 in each of the following four years.

According to Ofwat, the penalty would have been larger had Southern Water not co-operated with its investigation, addressed its failings and agreed to the payment package.

Ian McAulay, the company’s chief executive, said: “We are deeply sorry for what has happened. There are no excuses for the failings that occurred between 2010 and 2017. We are fully committed to continuing the fast pace of change delivered since 2017.”