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Sewage Into River

Five UK water companies appear in court for the first time in relation to allegations of underreporting pollution incidents and overcharging customers as a result

A date has been set for the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) to consider claims being brought on behalf of millions of overcharged household water customers against Severn Trent Water, United Utilities Water, Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water and Anglian Water.

Posted on 20 March 2024

During a one-day Case Management Conference (CMC) on Tuesday 19 March 2024, a panel of three, including the President of the Tribunal Justice Marcus Smith, set Monday 23 September 2024 as the start date for the Collective Proceedings Order (CPO) hearing; the hearing is scheduled to last a week, with an extra week in reserve in January 2025. The panel also indicated that the proposed defendants should appoint a joint expert and submit a joint response to Professor Roberts’ claims.

At the CPO hearing, the Tribunal will be asked to approve the claims as suitable to proceed as opt-out collective claims on behalf of eligible class members and approve Professor Roberts as the Class Representative. It will also consider important points regarding the interaction between collective proceedings and the regulatory regimes.

Professor Carolyn Roberts, an environmental and water consultant, is bringing the claims on behalf of all affected household customers represented by law firm Leigh Day.

The CPO is the first stage of the case. If Professor Roberts is successful, the cases will then proceed to trial, which Leigh Day say will take at least two to three years. 

The legal claims allege that the water companies have been breaking competition law by misleading the Environment Agency and Ofwat as to the number of pollution incidents, being discharges or spills of untreated sewage they made into rivers, lakes, coastal areas, and other waterways causing damage to the environment.

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. 

It is estimated that, across all claims, more than 20million customers are impacted with potential compensation payments of approximately £800m in total if successful.

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

“We welcome the Tribunal’s decision to recognise the need for a swift timetable by setting a joint CPO hearing in September 2024, consistent with the Proposed Class Representative's litigation plan. This brings us one step closer to securing redress for millions of impacted consumers.”

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