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Households punished for failure of greedy water companies to upgrade crumbling infrastructure, filling rivers with human sewage

Responding to the Ofwat announcement that household water bills are set to rise, CEO of River Action James Wallace said, “These bill hikes punish households struggling with the cost-of-living crisis for the abject failure of greedy water companies to invest in their crumbling infrastructure and reduce record sewage spills.  For decades the industry has put profit before the environment, rewarding its shareholders with billions in dividends, and in the process filling our rivers with human sewage.

“We face climate breakdown resulting in more intense weather events that put pressure on treatment plants and storm overflows, overwhelmed when it rains. The water companies have realised they’re in a mess of their making and have successfully appealed to Ofwat to approve increases in water bills to climate proof their infrastructure. It begs the question, what have they been doing all these decades and what exactly are households paying their water bills for, apart from lining the pockets of fat-cat CEOs trousering massive bonuses and seeing huge dividends flow to shareholders? Remember, this is an industry that spews millions of litres of sewage into rivers and wastes 3 billion litres of water a day.

“We must fix this national embarrassment of systemic sewage pollution which has caused environmental carnage to our rivers. To do this, rather than hiking customer bills and getting the public to pay for the failure of the water companies, Ofwat should direct their shareholders to urgently invest in fixing their leaky infrastructure. 

“Failing water companies should be put into special administration and refinanced to remove the opaque investment structures that have protected shareholders rather than bill payers, communities, and the environment. This process must begin now. We are in a freshwater emergency.

“The newly elected Labour Government has set out cleaning up our rivers as a priority and the manifesto committed to put failing water companies under special measures. The government has the political and public mandate behind it to push forward with ambitious measures that can hit water companies with the full force of the law, prioritising cleaning up our rivers, securing freshwater and restoring nature.  Ofwat and the Environment Agency must be resourced properly to clean up the mess of the last two decades of strategic deregulation and austerity.

“But we also need wholesale reform of Ofwat to ensure that people and the environment are prioritised over investors; and of the Environment Agency to ensure increased water quality monitoring and more meaningful fines of polluters. To date, Ofwat has allowed our water companies to be asset stripped by the financial engineering of their investors to the extent the country’s sewage infrastructure is failing due to woeful under-investment, and the Environment Agency has allowed this to happen with impunity.”


For media interviews call Ian at River Action on 07377 547 362 or email