Water giants face fresh criticism over winter storm leaks
WATER industry bosses are braced for renewed criticism this week after thousands were left without water in the wake of the “Beast from the East”.
Following the storm, which struck in February and again in March, Ofwat’s new chief executive Rachel Fletcher promised that the regulator would “get to the bottom” of why thousands of people were left without water for days. It is expected that she will deliver the first major verdict of her tenure this week. “We’ll find out where companies did well by their customers and where they’ve fallen short, including the compensation being offered to those who were directly affected,” she said when launching the inquiry.
The sudden freeze and thaw of water pipes across the country as the Siberian storm swept in caused major pipe bursts, at one point leaving 20,000 customers in the South East without water. Thames Water, which supplies a quarter of the UK’S population, said it pumped 500m litres a day through the network to avert water shortages caused by the leaks.
The utility already faces regulatory penalties of £120m for breaching Ofwat’s leakage targets and a political backlash against the compensation it offered to customers left without running water.
Thames agreed to go beyond the statutory minimum for payouts and pay those customers worst affected up to £150, but drew the ire of MPS after many customers later received letters offering £30 in compensation. FTSE water companies Severn Trent and Pennon, which owns South West Water, also fell foul of the regulator’s standards on leakage as a result of the storm. Pennon said that during the extreme “freeze and thaw”, South West Water’s staff and partners “worked tirelessly” to restore supplies as quickly as possible.
The water company still earned a penalty of £900,000 for falling short of leakage targets. If not for the freeze, Pennon said South West would have earned a £100,000 reward for the year.
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