I was initially quite joyful when Southern Water gave me a ‘marketing call’ and arranged for a house inspection to help save water and to install a water butt.
Last year, Ofwat forced water companies to return £114mn to customers for their failures. This included pumping disgusting raw sewage into River Medway, all whilst water firms hand themselves insulting pay-offs. Notably, the fine also relates to Southern Water’s failure to provide “service enhancements”. Water firms should also be helping households to save on their water bills. As reported by The Money Saving Expert these measures include providing water-saving devices for free.
A friendly contractor promptly arrived in a few days later with a water butt in his van. He was sympathetic when he told me at the door that it is a wide 200-litre water butt. I do have a big garden but the very wide water butt would have blocked access to my patio and ripped out a vegetable garden. The contractor explained that Southern Water only provides one type of water butt. Given that he explained the size of the water butt right at my door without unloading it, I sense many of my neighbours had similar issues with the size.
The next stage was a walk around the house looking at taps and the flushing system in the toilets. There was not much that could be done. Southern Water had not contracted him to check for leaks, investigate the condition of the flush or provide add-ons to a variety of taps. So, the whole appointment was over in five minutes.
Water-saving inspections are not fair compensation
Southern Water deems I have been compensated. They can tick the box and report to Ofwat they had spent part of the £123mn, a rebate imposed upon them in 2019. However, do I feel compensated? I neither got a water butt nor had my household water supply checked. Even on dry days, raw sewage is discharged at Motney Hill in Rainham, polluting the Riverside Country Park which I treasure for an evening stroll.
Inevitably, these schemes are not actually ‘free’. They had been paid for by customers through water bills and penalties imposed on Southern Water for not providing quality public needs. So why is Southern Water not tailoring to each individual customer’s needs as part of their compensation package? Surely that is fair to Kent residents after years of being ignored to provide good water services.
I took a trip to my local hardware stores to demonstrate the first solution for Southern Water. There are a huge variety of water butts; various colours, slim or cornered, that blends into a corner in the garden. If Southern Water is to make true on providing remedies, residents should be allowed to source water butts of their choice and ring Southern Water for engineers to install them free of charge.
Secondly, if that free installation takes place in vulnerable households, Southern Water should accompany the installation with a thorough inspection of the house’s water system. That package should check and fix water leakages and provide new water taps and flushes. That will be a fair community compensation package looking after our elderly and vulnerable neighbours.
Thirdly, churches and charities are preparing for Christmas and they need relief for their water bills. After Sunday service at my church in Rochester, our pastor came to me. Rising water bills have always been a problem, but with the cost-of-living crisis, everyone feels pressured to fund the bills. Places of worship are unfairly treated due to their size, which they rightfully require to serve the community. Most also have a decently sized kitchen, giving away hot meals efficiently. The pressure on bills grows as we want to bring Christmas dinners cooked at churches and charities to brighten up spirits. Yet, as community volunteers wash brussels sprouts and boil potatoes, leaders of these community networks are stressed at the next bill arriving. Owners of Southern Water are not short of profits from dividends. Macquarie Bank posted an annual net profit of £4bn. It is only fair to ask water companies to relieve churches and charities, who are all working hard for local communities, and write off their bills for Christmas.
Water company mistakes
The water companies were told to make good on their past mistakes. Southern Water, which supplies water to Kent and Medway, was a repeated culprit in illegal discharges. In 2021, Southern Water was fined £90mn. That was a settlement after pleading guilty to illegal discharges over five years, when customers had paid for water treatment. That was after the same water firm, in 2019, was made to rebate £123mn to customers for serious failures at its water treatment facilities.
It certainly does not seem they are putting great effort into improving. Raw sewage is still spilling into the Thames and River Medway after repeated fines. On remedies enforced by Ofwat, there was insufficient consideration given to the actual needs of residents, which translates into an actual fair compensation. It’s awful that these circumstances simply translate to more waste. I call upon Southern Water to take actual remedial actions with the suggestions that I have made: provide real choices as compensation, provide better community assistance to the elderly and vulnerable and write off the water bills of churches and charities.