Environment

'It's a scandal': Outcry from Brits to nationalise water companies as bills set to rise – again

Calls are growing for the government to bring private water companies back into public hands

Water bills will rise for consumers across England and Wales. Credit: canva

Water bills in England and Wales will rise by an average of £94 over the next five years, industry regulator Ofwat has said.

The hike – which amounts to an average £19 per year – comes as water companies charge customers to fix their crumbling infrastructure and to prevent sewage spills. These firms also pumped raw sewage into rivers and the sea more than 300,000 times last year.

The bill increase differs by region. Thames Water customers will face an increase of £99 (23%) over the next half decade. Anglian Water customers will see a £66 (13%) hike, and Southern Water customers will face a £183 uptick (44%).

Nationalisation group We Own It said that the public was being forced to pay for the “failures” of privatisation.

“The private companies haven’t invested a single penny of their own money since 1989 (it’s all come from our water bills) and they’ve left the infrastructure to crumble,” said Cat Hobbs, director. 

“Now they want us to pay again while the water bosses and shareholders continue to profit from their investment: us, the customers who have no choice.”

Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson Tim Farron described the increase as “insulting”.

“It is a national scandal that these disgraced firms are demanding more money from families and pensioners in a cost of living crisis, all while dumping raw sewage into our rivers.”

Water companies were also angry at the proposed surge – albeit for different reasons. They wanted much larger hikes in bills.

The industry had called for water bills to rise by an average of a third over the next five years, between 1 April 2025 and 31 March 2030. Ofwat’s average increase came in at about a third less at 21%.

Industry group Water UK described the proposed plans were “the biggest ever cut in investment”.

“As a direct result, more housing will be blocked, the recovery of our rivers will be slower and we will fail to deal with the water shortages we know are coming,” a spokesperson claimed.

Labour has promised to crackdown on the water industry, which has come under increasing pressure from disgruntled consumers. This includes giving the water regulator powers to block the payment of any bonuses until water bosses.

However, campaigners want the government to inject much more funding into regulatory bodies like the environmental agencies.

“It’s good to hear the new environment secretary Steve Reed saying he’ll ‘never look the other way’ and make changes in water company governance, but tough talk won’t wash without greater funding for the Environment Agency and putting a green duty on Ofwat alongside its economic focus,” said Paul de Zylva, senior sustainability analyst at Friends of the Earth.

“It’s now up to the new government to set a better standard by imposing tougher sanctions on irresponsible water companies and enshrining the right to a healthy environment law.”

We Own It called for the government to bring private water companies into public hands.

“90% of the world has public ownership. Seven out of 10 people in England want public ownership. Until we get it, we will be outrageously ripped off and the problem will not be solved,” Hobbs said.

“You can’t have a recovery regime for privatised water companies and clamp down on them at the same time. This is the catch 22 of water privatisation. As long as they’re making a profit, that money won’t be invested in the clean-up.”

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