Water bill: Bills across England and Wales to rise by 21% over next five years slammed 'outrageous' as taxpayers 'footing water company failures'

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Water bills are set to increase by an average of 21% across England and Wales over the next five years.

The regulator Ofwat has provisionally approved bill hikes of an average of £19 per year over the next five years to fund an £88bn upgrade to England and Wales’ sewerage infrastructure. The bill increases are third less than water companies had asked for.

Southern Water proposed bill hikes of up to 73% between 2025 and 2030, while debt-riddled Thames Water proposed a 42% hike. As Ofwat's report suggests, their wishes are unlikely to be fully met following final consultations on the plans at a time when the industry is under such heavy fire.

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The decision today (Thursday 11 July) is an initial response from Ofwat to water companies’ five-year business plans. A final decision is expected in December following a period of consultation.

Water bills are set to increase by an average of 21% across England and Wales over the next five years. (Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire)Water bills are set to increase by an average of 21% across England and Wales over the next five years. (Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire)
Water bills are set to increase by an average of 21% across England and Wales over the next five years. (Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire) | Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Users on X, formerly Twitter, have shared their anger this morning at the announcement. Non-profit organisation, ‘We Own It’, posted on X: “Privatised water companies have got themselves into financial crisis. They want you to bail them out.

“It's outrageous. People should come before profit — nationalise water now!”. Hugo Tagholm, executive director of Oceana UK, said on X: “SHOCK NEWS - water bill payers to foot the bill for water company failures, sewage scandal and dividend bonanza.”

The announcement comes as water companies face intense scrutiny for their role in pouring untreated sewage into UK rivers and seas. It also comes as Thames Water is under growing scrutiny as its annual report released this week showed that the firm’s debt has swelled to over £15 billion while the firm has increased its profit, paid millions in dividends and its boss took home a bonus of £195k.

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The water firm has warned that it will run out of money by next June - and said it wanted to raise customers’ water bills by over 50%. The water company’s annual report also revealed a catalogue of missed targets and under-performance. On supply interruptions, which looks at the length of time water is not available per number of properties served, there were 16 minutes 56 seconds in 2023/24, a 15% reduction on the previous year.

However, the firm admits to missing its regulatory target of 5 minutes 23 seconds. Thames Water’s CEO, Chris Weston, admitted that the firm’s “performance in pollutions and sewage discharges is not where it should be or where we want it to be”, adding that “the number of reportable pollutions increased during the year to 350 from 331.”

On today’s announcement, Ofwat chief executive David Black said: “Customers want to see radical change in the way water companies care for the environment. Our draft decisions on company plans approve a tripling of investment to make sustained improvement to customer service and the environment at a fair price for customers.

“These proposals aim to deliver a 44% reduction in spills from storm overflows compared to levels in 2021. We expect all companies to embrace innovation and go further and faster to reduce spills wherever possible. Today’s announcement also increases the resilience of our water supplies to the impact of climate change and will reduce how much water is taken from rivers by enabling a range of long-term water supply projects, which includes plans for nine reservoirs.

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“Let me be very clear to water companies. We will be closely scrutinising the delivery of their plans and will hold them to account to deliver real improvements to the environment and for customers and on their investment programmes.”

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