Ofwat has today announced that it is opening enforcement cases into five water and wastewater companies as part of its ongoing investigation into how companies manage their wastewater treatment works.
Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water have been served formal notices to gather further information for enforcement purposes. This follows analysis of the information water and wastewater companies were asked to submit to Ofwat in late December about how many of their sewage treatment works might not be meeting requirements in their environmental permits, and what companies are doing to resolve that.
Concern about aspects of these five companies’ submissions has prompted Ofwat’s current focus. However, all water and sewerage companies in England and Wales remain subject to the ongoing investigation as Ofwat continues its review of the information it has gathered. Ofwat will keep the enforcement cases under review, and the companies in focus may change as new information comes to light.
The five companies are targeted because the information they provided in December raised one or more of the following concerns:
- it reported a significant number of wastewater treatment works which the company considers might not be compliant with its environmental permits, and/or
- it raised concerns about how overall the company manages its compliance with its environmental obligations, and/or
- it didn’t sufficiently show how the company have established whether its treatment works are meeting the requirements of its environmental permits, and so we need further information for our assessment.
In addition to opening these five enforcement cases, Ofwat continues to monitor Southern Water’s compliance with a package of commitments it made following Ofwat’s enforcement action in 2019. Ofwat will look at whether the latest investigation identifies anything new or different of concern not already covered by the previous enforcement action and commitments.
In their December responses to Ofwat, all but one company (Hafren Dyfrdwy) reported having had some treatment works that were potentially non-compliant with the flow to full treatment (FFT) requirements of their environmental permits. Many companies set out the steps they have taken or are taking to bring those treatment works back into compliance. However, some companies did not offer sufficient assurances that they monitor and understand the compliance of their treatment works, or the root causes of any non-compliance.
David Black, Ofwat interim Chief Executive, said:
“The data that emerged at the end of last year suggested widespread shortcomings in how water companies were running sewage treatment works. The first phase of our investigation suggests those concerns are credible.
“We have identified shortcomings in most water and wastewater companies and are continuing to investigate. But we have already seen enough in five companies to cause serious concern and warrant us taking further action.
“We will now dig deeper into what these five companies have been doing, with the prospect of formal enforcement against them if we find they are failing on obligations Ofwat enforces.
“We will have further questions for all companies on this. In the meantime, we expect them to make quick progress in addressing any potential non-compliance they might have, whilst strengthening how they manage their environmental obligations as a whole.”
Ofwat’s enforcement powers can see the regulator fine companies up to 10% of their annual turnover.
Notes for editors
- A more detailed summary of what water and wastewater companies have told Ofwat in the information provided in December 2021 is on the investigation page on Ofwat’s website.
- Ofwat is committed to being open and transparent throughout the investigation and will be providing regular updates on the website investigation page.
- More information is expected to come to light as the investigation progresses. Ofwat is working closely with the Environment Agency, who are carrying out a criminal investigation into companies’ compliance with environmental permits. Ofwat’s focus and timelines differ from the Environment Agency because of the different statutory and enforcement powers each regulator has. While the Environment Agency is investigating potential breaches of individual environmental permits at treatment works under a criminal investigation (and as such must be conducted in accordance with criminal rules and procedures), Ofwat is looking at how overall companies operate and manage their sewage treatment works and how they report on their performance about this. More information about the Environment Agency’s investigation can be found here.
- Issuing notices to gather information for enforcement purposes is not necessarily an indicator that Ofwat intends to pursue formal enforcement action against these companies but does indicate that Ofwat considers that a company may not be or may not have been complying with its obligations. The information gathered will enable Ofwat to establish if it needs to seek further information or if its concerns have been addressed.
- The investigation page on Ofwat’s website provides details of what we are investigating, why we are investigating, how we will do it and our proposed timescales.
- The enforcement page on Ofwat’s website, ‘how we investigate’, provides more details on Ofwat’s enforcement process.
- The Environment Agency and Ofwat’s investigations were announced in November 2021.