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Sewage Into River

Legal claim issued against four UK water companies on behalf of millions of overcharged customers

Millions of household customers across the UK could be entitled to compensation through the latest round of legal action issued against four water companies which allege that they abused their market position and overcharged consumers

Posted on 20 December 2023

Legal claims have now been issued in the Competition Appeal Tribunal against Northumbrian Water, United Utilities, Anglian Water and Yorkshire Water for allegedly breaking competition law by misleading the Environment Agency and Ofwat regarding the number of pollution incidents they cause, being spills and discharges of sewage they made into waterways such as rivers and lakes.

These follow the issuing of a claim against Severn Trent Water in August 2023. A claim against Thames Water is expected to be issued in the new year. If successful, the claims are expected to lead to compensation payments of over £800 million in total.

Law firm Leigh Day is acting on behalf of Professor Carolyn Roberts, an environmental and water consultant, who is bringing the claims on behalf of over 20 million affected customers. 

The number of pollution incidents a company reports to regulators is a key factor in determining the price they can charge consumers for their services. The claims argue that customers have been overcharged as a result of the companies’ underreporting. 

These are the first collective action cases where the competition abuse focuses on compliance with environmental laws and reporting responsibilities to regulators.

Anyone who has paid for a water bill to one or more of these water companies from April 2020 may be entitled to compensation if the cases are successful; customers of Severn Trent Water may be entitled to compensation if they paid for a water bill from April 2017.

The claims are ‘opt-out,’ meaning individuals do not need to sign up for the claims. Customers affected will automatically be included in the claims unless they specifically choose to opt-out. Customers will only need to come forward at the compensation stage if the claims are successful.  

If the cases are successful, it is expected that any compensation would be paid by the relevant water company and its shareholders, not by increasing customers’ bills.

Professor Carolyn Roberts said:

“In England and Wales there is growing anger about the state in which sewage discharges leave our rivers and beaches. I hope that the legal claims I am bringing on behalf of 20 million customers could be the start of desperately needed change in the water industry.”

“Water companies are required to report pollution incidents accurately as part of their legal duties and responsibilities, but it appears many such incidents go unreported. If these companies had correctly reported the number of pollution incidents, Ofwat would have applied performance penalties, reducing how much these companies could charge their customers. Instead, customers have been, and continue to be, overcharged, and England’s waterways continue to be polluted.”

Zoë Mernick-Levene, head of Competition Practice and partner at Leigh Day said:

“For the first time in English law, legal action is being taken against six of the largest water companies, on behalf of more than 20 million household customers. These claims are being brought on an ‘opt-out’ basis which means individuals do not need to sign up to bring individual claims; instead, everyone who has suffered loss is included unless they actively choose not to be.

“As well as providing individual compensation and justice, opt-out proceedings also act as a deterrent to future misconduct, as companies know that consumers can act collectively to hold them to account for any rule breaking.”

 More information about the claims can be found at mywatercase.co.uk.

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Zoe Mernick Levene
Competition law

Zoë Mernick-Levene

Zoë is head of the competition practice

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