Water bills to rise by average 6% from April - as price hike branded 'a disgrace'

The average household water and sewerage bill in England and Wales is to go up by an average 6% from April to help unlock "record investment", an industry group has announced.

Water UK said the increases, equivalent to £27 a year, would leave households with an average annual bill of £473.

The body said the increase, while down on the previous year's hike, was needed to fund infrastructure improvements following a backlash over deliberate sewage discharges and poor water supply resilience.

It announced in October last year that it was seeking permission for a much greater contribution from bill-payers over the second half of the decade.

In return for the money, the proposed business plan promised 10 new reservoirs, to cut leaks and stop the equivalent of 6,800 Olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of sewage spills.

Water UK said the latest hike would unlock a record £14bn investment to ensure supply security and "significantly reduce" the amount of sewage in rivers and seas.

It said that more than two million low-income households would receive help to meet the increases.

Customers of Wessex Water and Anglian Water face the highest average charges of £548 and £529 respectively, while Northumbrian customers will see the lowest average bills of £422.

Those homes under Britain's biggest supplier, Thames Water, will see their average charge rise by £15 despite poor performance.

In June last year, Sky News revealed how fears that Thames could be swept away under the weight of its debt pile had prompted the government to ready a rescue plan.

Its investors later agreed a further £750m of investment.

In December, Thames divulged an 18% rise in pollution incidents during the first half of its financial year - and that its debt pile had grown to £14.7bn.

Among the projects set to receive investment over the coming year is the 25km Tideway super sewer, which will divert storm flows away from the River Thames for the first time.

It aims to reduce sewage pollution poured into the river by 95%.

Water UK chief executive David Henderson said: "Next year will see record levels of investment from water companies to secure the security of our water supply in the future and significantly reduce the amount of sewage in rivers and seas.

"Up and down the country customers will see the results of this investment with more than 2,000 kilometres of pipes being repaired or replaced and more capacity to treat sewage than ever before.

"At the same time support for customers is doubling with more than two million families now being helped with their bills.

"Anyone with worries should contact their water company and, it is worth remembering, water companies will never cut anyone off or make them use a prepayment meter."

Chief executive of regulator Ofwat, David Black, responded: "We are very aware, for those who are already struggling, this will be a real worry.

"As such, water companies must do all they can to protect those who are most in need of a helping hand."

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The rise comes amid ongoing regulatory concern over dividends paid out by water firms to shareholders.

In December, South East Water revealed it paid out £2.3m in dividends to investors despite widened losses and a £3m cost hit from summer heatwaves and supply interruptions.

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Details of the payout came as the supplier - which is under investigation by Ofwat over its service to customers and record in maintaining a water supply - reported pre-tax losses of £18.1m for the six months to September 30, against losses of £12.7m a year earlier.

Just days earlier, Thames announced a £37.5m dividend to its parent company - with the payout being probed by Ofwat over concerns it may have broken rules designed to protect customers and the environment.

The Liberal Democrats' environment spokesperson Tim Farron MP said: "This is a kick in the teeth from the same dodgy water firms who pollute rivers with sewage whilst pocketing millions in bonuses. They have no shame.

"This price hike is a disgrace and should be scrapped immediately. There should be no price rises until water firms scrap insulting overseas dividends and exec bonuses. It is a scandal that Conservative Ministers are just letting water firms get away with this."