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Fines for polluting water companies rise to £250m

Penalties for polluting water companies have been risen by the government, with potential costs increasing by 1000 times from £250,000 to £250 million.

The new Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena made the announcement yesterday, as the government attempts to gain control over the UK’s rampant water pollution.

At the beginning of the year, the Environmental Audit Committee found only 14% of rivers are at a good ecological status, while dangerous levels of medical drugs have also been found in British waterways.

The government has said it is pushing water companies to invest in better infrastructure to minimise pollution incidents, as last year 62 serious incidents were reported – up from 44 in 2020.

close up photo of ocean wave at daytime

Ranil Jayawardena said: ‘I have been clear that if water companies don’t do what is expected, there will be consequences. Bigger financial penalties will act as a greater deterrent and push water companies to do more, and faster, when it comes to investing in infrastructure and improving the quality of our water.

‘This 1,000-fold increase sends a clear signal that we want clean rivers and coastlines, and that the duty falls to the water companies to deliver – the polluter must pay.’

When water companies are caught falling foul of environmental protections, the Environment Agency (EA) can directly impose civil sanctions called Variable Monetary penalties (VMPs) where there is evidence of negligence or environmental impact.

Last month, water companies were asked to write to the Environment Secretary to set out plans to improve infrastructure and environmental protection.

Water regulator Ofwat also announced yesterday it would be fining 11 companies for missing targets, meaning £150bn would be taken off customers’ bills next year.

Thames Water and Southern Water were called out and will be forced to pay around £80m for not complying with water treatment works, pollution incidents and internal sewer flooding.

David Black, Ofwat CEO, said: ‘When it comes to delivering for their customers, too many water companies are falling short, and we are requiring them to return around £150m to their customers.

‘We expect companies to improve their performance every year; where they fail to do so, we will hold them to account. The poorest performers, Southern Water and Thames Water, will have to return almost £80m to their customers. All water companies need to earn back the trust of customers and the public and we will continue to challenge the sector to improve.’

Photo by lee attwood

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