Professor Carolyn Roberts, an environment and water specialist, is bringing collective action claims against six water companies for overcharging household customers.
The six water companies facing legal action are:
- Severn Trent
- United Utilities
- Northumbrian Water
- Yorkshire Water
- Anglian Water
- Thames Water
The claims allege that these water companies have abused their dominant positions by misreporting the number of pollution incidents they have caused to regulators, resulting in higher customer bills.
As a result of the serial and serious under-reporting at the heart of these claims, water companies have been avoiding being penalised by Ofwat. I believe this has resulted in consumers being unfairly overcharged for sewage services.
Professor Carolyn Roberts
Pollution incidents are discharges of wastewater from a company sewerage asset adversely affecting the water environment. Water companies are required to report this kind of incident as part of their legal duties and responsibilities and the number of incidents is considered by Ofwat when setting the price these companies are ultimately allowed to charge consumers.
By providing misleading information to Ofwat, these water companies may have avoided penalties for underperformance against their performance objectives, and in some instances received rewards. As a result, water companies may have been able to charge higher prices to consumers.
Professor Roberts and her lawyers at Leigh Day argue that such conduct amounts to an abuse of a dominant position for the purposes of competition law. In the UK it is unlawful for a company with monopoly power (or a dominant position in the market) to abuse its position in the market, for example by charging excessive prices, or misleading regulators.
Customers put their trust in water companies, believing that they are correctly reporting these spillages and appropriately treating the sewage so it can safely be returned to the environment. Instead, our client believes they are misleading their regulators and customers are overpaying while England’s waterways are suffering as a result.
Zoë Mernick-Levene, partner at Leigh Day
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Water claim FAQs
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 legal claims can be brought on behalf of a group of individuals who are alleged to have suffered a common loss. The group is called the “class” and all individuals within the group are “class members”.
The collective proceedings regime means that groups of individuals who have suffered harm do not each need to bring an individual claim to obtain compensation for their loss. Instead, these individuals may all receive compensation through a single collective claim brought on their behalf by a class representative.
Professor Carolyn Roberts is seeking permission from the Competition Appeal Tribunal (a specialist court which hears and decide cases involving competition law issues) to act as the class representative for these claims. If she is authorised as class representative, Professor Roberts will conduct the claims on behalf of all the proposed class members, unless they choose to opt out.
The Proposed Class Representative is seeking to bring these claims on an opt-out basis. This means that if the claims are allowed to proceed by the Competition Appeal Tribunal, all members of the proposed classes who are domiciled (i.e. reside) in the UK will be automatically included in the claim, unless they choose to opt-out.
Six separate claims are being brought against the different water companies; however, the class definition will be largely similar across these claims. This can be broadly summarised as:
All Persons who have paid for the provision of sewerage services to Household Customers by one of the six water companies during the Class Period, either Directly or as part of their Rent.
“Persons” means natural person domiciled in the UK on the date of domicile which will be determined later in the process by the Competition Appeal Tribunal.
“Household customers” means customers being provided with sewerage premises principally used as a home, within the meaning of section 17C of the Water Industry Act 1991.
“Rent” – meaning rent paid by persons who constitute Purchasers for the purpose of the Water Resale Order 2006 (“the 2006 Order”)
The “Class Period” – this period varies depending on the water company:
|1 April 2020 to present:||1 April 2017 to present:|
|Thames Water||Severn Trent|
If you would like to be part of the claims, you do not need to take any action at this stage.
If the claims are allowed to proceed on an opt-out basis by the Competition Appeal Tribunal, all members of the proposed classes who are domiciled (i.e. reside) in the UK will be automatically included in the claims, unless they choose to opt-out.
Those who are not domiciled in the UK but fall within one of the class definitions and wish to participate in the claims will have the opportunity to opt-in to the claims. If the claims are allowed to proceed, details on how to opt-in to the claims will be made public, including on the claims website www.mywatercase.co.uk.
No, individual class members do not need to pay anything to be a part of the claims and do not face any financial risk because they are part of the proposed classes.
Professor Roberts has obtained third-party funding through Bench Walk Advisors LLC to cover her costs in bringing the claims. She has also taken out specialist insurance to cover the proposed defendants’ costs if the claims are unsuccessful and she is ordered by the Tribunal to pay the proposed defendants’ costs. This means that class members will not be personally liable for any of the costs arising from the claims, win or lose.
The exact amount each class member will be entitled to will be determined by the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Professor Roberts is seeking compensation for all customers falling within the proposed classes who have been affected by anti-competitive behaviour by these six water companies. The combined total sum being sought on behalf of all proposed class members is hundreds of millions of pounds.
If you would not like to be part of the claims, you do not need to take any action at this stage.
If the claims are allowed to proceed, consumers will have until a set deadline to opt-out of the claims if they do not wish to be part of them. Opting-out will mean that you will not be part of this claim, and you will not being able to receive a payment if the claim is successful and any compensation is secured.
If the claims are allowed to proceed, details on how to opt-out of the claims will be made public, including on the claims website www.mywatercase.co.uk.
We expect that the company and shareholders will pay for damages, not consumers, because of the way that Ofwat’s price control regime operates, which determines what water companies can charge consumers.
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- RAW deal! Hundreds of customers are refusing to pay their water bills over the billions of litres of sewage dumped in England's seas and rivers Mail online 29.10.23
- A ‘not fit for purpose’ sewage system puts U.K. swimmers at risk in filthy waterways NBC News 1.10.23
- Public could receive hundreds of millions as water firms face sewage lawsuit Guardian 9.8.23
- Water firms face legal action over claims of underreporting sewage discharges ITV 9.8.23
- Water firms facing legal action over claims of pollution and customer overcharging Sky News 9.8.23
- Water firms could owe compensation to 20m customers over pollution Times 9.8.23
- Water bills: Fight for money back over sewage leaks begins BBC 9.8.23
- Water firms face £800m legal action after ‘underreporting sewage discharges’ Independent 9.8.23