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Water companies to be fined by Ofwat if they don’t reduce legal sewage spills

Water companies will be fined if they do not reduce their sewage discharges or they fail to monitor them, Ofwat has announced.

The financial regulator of water companies will set binding targets for them to reduce their legal spills and penalise them if they fail to meet the benchmarks.

Where monitors are not working, Ofwat will work on the basis that spills from the site are twice as bad as the current average and fine them accordingly. That, it says, will motivate companies to ensure their monitors are working.

The companies are now legally obliged to fit monitors to their overflows, but many of these have been found to be faulty or broken.

Aileen Armstrong, a senior director at Ofwat, said: “Companies need to reduce the use of storm overflows. We want to introduce measures to hold them to account for this and to ensure companies are effectively monitoring their use of storm overflows.

“We will continue to use all the powers we have to drive companies to get to grips with this issue.”

Ofwat plans for the new fines to kick in in 2025, when its next price review period begins. As well as monitoring water company finances, Ofwat controls how much they can charge customers and how much investment can be loaded onto bills.

Critics have accused it of focusing too heavily on keeping bills down and not focusing enough on environmental indicators.

The new fines are aimed at ensuring the delivery of the Government’s Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan, which aims to end sewage discharges by 2050. Campaigners have labelled this too slow and are suing ministers to bring forward the target.

Last year there were more than 300,000 spills in England and parts of Wales.

These are legal so long as the companies are meeting the conditions of their environmental permits, which allow them do discharge sewage in the event that rainfall or snowmelt is overwhelming the system.

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