Ofwat and CCW have today published the results of research into customers’ experience of how Thames Water handled an incident in Camberley in 2023, in which a foul smell from a sewage treatment works, which lasted for months, affected thousands of people in the local area. The research is part of a series in which Ofwat and CCW are listening to customers about their experiences when something goes wrong with their water provider.
Between February and March of 2023, raw sewage sludge was imported to Thames Water’s sewage treatment works in Camberley. The sewage remained untreated on site until September 2023 and led to a strong odour permeating the surrounding community. This odour was so strong that it caused various mental health impacts for residents and some reported physical problems.
Residents described how they struggled to go about their daily lives given the difficulty of avoiding an odour that permeated both indoors and outdoors. They also relayed that they did not feel reassured that Thames Water was taking the problem seriously and only eventually acted when under pressure from the local MP and councillors.
Research participants were also frustrated by the poor communication from Thames Water, with some reporting they only received one update from the company throughout the whole period. Once the situation was addressed, participants said they did not feel they received an adequate explanation or apology. Ofwat and CCW have told the company they need to put this right.
Lynn Parker, senior director for casework, enforcement and customers at Ofwat said: “Camberley residents were subjected to a miserable experience last year when a persistent foul stench stopped them enjoying the summer in the way they would have wished. Thames Water’s handling of this incident and communication with customers was unacceptable. At the very least they deserve a proper explanation and apology and that should happen now.”
Mike Keil, CCW CEO said: “People’s anger and frustration is palpable having endured months of disruption to their daily lives, while being left with the impression Thames Water had gone into hiding. Much of this upset could have been avoided had the company kept residents regularly and clearly informed of what was going on instead of leaving a communication ‘black hole’. All the people affected deserve an apology and reassurance that this will never happen again as a first step to repairing trust in the company.”
Notes to editors