Yorkshire Water amongst water companies facing legal action
Environmental and water expert Professor Carolyn Roberts claims Yorkshire Water - along with Severn Trent Water, Thames Water, United Utilities, Anglian Water and Northumbrian Water - have broken competition laws through misleading the Environment Agency and industry regulator Ofwat.
She alleges the companies have underreported the number of sewage discharges to watercourses, which has led to customers being “unfairly overcharged” for wastewater services. Had sewage discharge reporting been accurate, customers could have expected lower bills, claims Prof Roberts.
Currently, water companies provide data to the Environment Agency on an annual basis that includes the number of sewage discharge incidents, with how long they occur, without any measurement of volume.
A report published in May from Prof Peter Hammond of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) called for volumes of discharge to be measured, as “inadequate” reporting made it impossible to assess the impact of sewage discharge.
That study took samples from rivers in England and Wales, including two in Yorkshire, and compared data with the officially reported figures held by the Environment Agency.
The river Wharfe saw 102 Olympic swimming pools of raw sewage discharged in 2020, and 76 pools’ worth into the Nidd. Although, Yorkshire Water disputes these figures as they claim a faulty monitor is to blame.
Prof Roberts’ first legal claim is against Severn Trent Water, with action against Yorkshire Water expected to follow in the coming weeks.
The claim against Severn Trent Water is estimated to be worth more than £330m for customers Prof Roberts claims have been unfairly charged.
“Like many others across the country,” she said, “I have viewed with horror the escalating number of stories in the media regarding the volume of sewage discharged into our waterways and on to our beaches.
“The population of the UK has a right to expect that our rivers, lakes and seas will generally be clean, except under exceptional circumstances.
“It appears that because of the serial and serious underreporting at the heart of these claims, water companies have been avoiding being penalised by Ofwat.
“I believe this has resulted in consumers being unfairly overcharged for sewage services.”
The legal action, undertaken by Leigh Day solicitors, is on an opt-out basis, meaning they are claiming on behalf of all customers and that people only need to come forward to claim compensation if their case is successful.
They hope that any compensation paid will come from shareholders, rather than through an increase in bills.
Water UK, a trade body for water companies, said via its spokesperson: “This highly speculative claim is entirely without merit. The regulator has confirmed that over 99% of sewage works comply with their legal requirements. If companies fail to deliver on their commitments, then customer bills are already adjusted accordingly.”
A spokesperson for Yorkshire Water said: “We are aware of an alleged claim being pursued by Leigh Day solicitors. Given the nature of the proposed proceedings, it would be inappropriate for us to comment any further.”