UK wastewater companies missing targets for pollution or sewage spills - how United Utilities rates

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Wastewater companies across the country are hugely underperforming and are facing multi-million pound fines.

All wastewater companies in England and Wales are failing to meet targets to tackle pollution and sewage floods, new research has revealed.

The Independent has released a country-wide data analysis on the issue and say the 11 largest water companies are facing tens of millions of pounds of financial penalties.

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Faulty sewage equipment and poor monitoring of these devices causes sewage and pollution to be pumped into rivers, the sea and local beaches.

The industry’s biggest companies are facing large fines for missing the targets, affecting how much they can charge customers in future.

However, despite missing targets, United Utilities, water provider for the North West of England, including Merseyside, is one of the leading companies for tackling sewage.

Faulty sewage equipment

According to data for 2021 from the Environment Agency, 15% of United Utilities’ wastewater dumps were either faulty or not monitored properly.

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However, this is vastly better than other water companies, such as Anglian, with 49%.

Image: Environment AgencyImage: Environment Agency
Image: Environment Agency

EPA rating for United Utilities

According to the Enivronment Agency, United Utilities has a four star EPA (Environmental Performance Assessment) rating, the highest possible rank. Only two out of the other national water companies have been awarded t’he same rating.

The report states: ‘Three companies (Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water and United Utilities) maintained 4 stars, although certain improvements are still required.’

EPA ratings are based on a series of measures and rank how companies protect the environment. The measures cover things like if companies have prevented sewage getting into rivers, is sewage measured and disposed of properly and do they have good, working equipment and processes to tackle sewage issues.

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United Utilities were also rated green on sewerage pollution incidents, with 137 actual incidents (needed 181 or fewer to be rated as green). The company was rated the best for pollution incidents, and one out of four companies to receive the green rating.

Penalties for companies lagging behind

Ofwat, the regulatory body for water companies in England and Wales, has imposed large penalty fees for wastewater companies missing sewerage pollution targets.

Over the last five years the organisation has imposed around £250 million in fees and penalties on water companies.

David Black, Ofwat CEO, said: “Wastewater companies know that the current situation regarding pollution in rivers is unacceptable and has to change. I am pleased to see the firm commitments to take action within some of the plans, which sets the pace for others to follow. These commitments need to be turned to actions which can and must start now.

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“Companies that are lagging behind need to catch up with the leading companies. Where companies are failing to meet their legal obligations, we will not hesitate to take action. All wastewater companies are still subject to our ongoing investigation on how they manage their sewage treatment works.”

The Environment Agency has called for higher fines for serious pollution incidents and prison sentences for Chief Executives and Board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents.

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