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Southern Water

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN HL2047, tabled on 14 July 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the £90m fine imposed on Southern Water by the Environment Agency for dumping raw sewage into protected seas; and what plans they have to direct the Environment Agency to hold Southern Water to stricter standards in future.

Answered on

28 July 2021

On 9 July 2021, Southern was handed a record £90 million fine after pleading guilty to thousands of illegal discharges of sewage which polluted rivers and coastal waters in Kent, Hampshire and Sussex. The Environment Agency led the successful prosecution, which is the largest criminal investigation in its 25-year history.

The findings in this case were shocking and wholly unacceptable. The Government has made clear that water companies have environmental responsibilities and must realise them. They have a legal duty to avoid pollution to our rivers and other waterways. Water companies should not be letting this happen and those that do will be punished by the full force of the law.

This fine, the largest ever imposed on a water company, is absolutely appropriate and welcomed. It will rightly be paid solely from the company's operating profits, rather than customer bills.

The Government works closely with the regulators including the Environment Agency and Ofwat to support their work to monitor Southern Water's performance and to hold them to account to deliver improvements for their customers and the environment. For example, the strategic policy statement (SPS) for Ofwat published on 22nd July for consultation outlines Government's key priorities for the independent regulator. This includes continuing to work on water companies' day-to-day environmental performance, with a focus on meeting the Government's ambitions to reduce significantly the frequency and volume of sewage discharges from storm overflows. As well as this, the statement asks Ofwat to challenge water companies to strategically plan their drainage and wastewater services in order to improve resilience and reduce pollution incidents. Ofwat will also work with companies to drive down leakage and improve water efficiency for the benefit of current and future customers.

Although it has improved on last year's Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) 1-star rating, Southern Water remains one of the worst performing companies. Southern Water has a package of undertakings to deliver following enforcement action. The package includes steps to improve investment and performance at its wastewater treatment works and to increase transparency for customers about its environmental performance.

Minister Pow met with Southern Water's management team earlier this year to discuss their environmental performance. Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, also met with Southern Water's Chair, and the Secretary of State will be meeting with them to discuss their 2020 EPA results.

The Environment Agency regularly reviews the EPA metrics and targets to hold water companies to strict standards. They are working on introducing new metrics for water resources, storm overflows and sludge in the future.

The Government will continue to work closely with the Environment Agency and Ofwat as they regulate robustly to drive improvements in the sector.