Water companies are asking for customers’ bills to rise by about £156 per year in order to fund a five-year plan to prevent 140,000 annual sewage overflow spills.
The increase would allow infrastructure spending to almost double to £96 billion in the second part of the decade which is almost double the current levels. The companies say the money will pay for 10 new reservoirs, cut leaks and stop the equivalent of 6,800 Olympic swimming pools-worth of sewage spills.
The industry said the planned investment, if approved, would cut leakage by more than a quarter by 2030 compared with the start of the decade, putting performance among the top five countries in Europe.
Consumers will be asked to pay higher bills to pay for the upgrades, with Water UK setting out that under the proposals the average bill in England is expected to be £7 per month higher by 2025 compared with 2023’s prices.
That will escalate to £13 per month extra by 2030, equivalent to £156 more per year.
Industry body Water UK said private firms had agreed to more than double the number of households that will receive financial support, rising by 2 million to 3.2 million, as the sector looks to address public anger over sewage being pumped into beaches and rivers.
Water UK added that 30,000 new jobs and 4,000 apprenticeships will be created to help deliver the plan, representing a 50% increase in the workforce.
Regulator Ofwat said it will scrutinise the plans before a final decision is made at the end of next year.
It added that it will be putting in place an incentive regime to reward companies that improve performance, while hitting companies with financial penalties if they fail to deliver. Customers and stakeholders will be consulted on the plans over the coming months, the regulator said.
David Henderson, chief executive of Water UK, said he recognised increased bills were “never welcome” but urged regulator Ofwat to sign off on the proposals so the sector could counter sewage spills “as fast as possible”.
Ofwat promised to “forensically scrutinise” the sector’s blueprint to ensure the hike in bills over the five-year period is “justified”.
While environment Secretary Therese Coffey said “major improvements” were required and she has been “very clear” with Ofwat that “customers should not pay the price for poor performance”.
However, the move to increase bills will likely be met with backlash as households grapple with cost-of-living pressures and high inflation levels.
In May, Water UK announced plans to invest £10 billion to upgrade sewers but acknowledged customer’s bills will rise to fund this.
At the time Mark Barrow, an underwater filmmaker at Beneath British Waters, who films sewage in UK rivers, told NationalWorld that he is not “prepared to pay for a huge increase” for a problem created by water companies “so they should sort it”.
While Greenpeace UK’s policy director Dr Doug Parr said getting the public to pay towards fixing the sewage problem is “a very strange way of being sorry”.