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False claims about the water industry’s proposed investment of £96 billion

Constructing new water pipes

Following industry’s announcement of an unprecedented investment programme of nearly £100 billion, two false claims have been circulating online.

1.    Water companies have been given all of the funding needed to meet their legal obligations to build and maintain sewage systems. Therefore, water companies’ proposal to triple investment to reduce the activation of combined sewer overflows should be rejected.

False. The High Court ruled in September 2023 that the plan for reducing the activation of combined sewer overflows, which water companies are seeking to deliver by tripling investment over the next five years, goes further than the legal obligations on companies. See Paragraph 169 where the High Court rules that, “The Plan goes further than the 1994 Regulations [which governs the operation of sewers]”. 

As the plan goes beyond existing legal obligations, new funding is required to deliver it. Ofwat has confirmed that it will forensically scrutinise the proposals submitted by water companies and will only authorise customer bills to be used for investment that is new, necessary and value for money. The UK Government has confirmed this.

2.    Combined sewage overflows should only be activated in exceptional circumstances. 

False. The High Court confirmed in September 2023 that in addition to exceptional circumstances – that is, after unusually heavy rain – the law permits overflows to operate when it's technically too difficult or too expensive for them not to. See Paragraph 69 of the judgment. The UK Government has confirmed this too. 

This is the legal position. Water and sewerage companies in England and Wales believe we should reduce the operation of combined sewer overflows beyond the legal minimum. That’s why we are now proposing to triple the level of investment to reduce the operation of combined sewage overflows as fast as possible.