The nine main water and sewerage companies had paid out £65.9bn in dividends in the last three decades. They have also taken on debts of £54bn.
Ofwat said Northumbrian Water and Portsmouth Water had paid dividends which were significantly higher than the regulator’s expectations and the companies’ financial resilience. Northumbrian dividends in the past year were £181.5m and Portsmouth Water paid £5.1m to shareholders.
David Black, the chief executive of Ofwat, said: “In too many areas, water and wastewater companies are falling short when it comes to looking after customers, the environment and their own financial resilience. We are clear; these companies need to address this unacceptable performance as a matter of urgency. For some companies poor performance has become the norm. This cannot go on. We are requiring the worst performers, including Thames Water and Southern Water, to return around £120m to customers.”
“In 2021-22 the number of serious pollution incidents increased and there was a deterioration in the compliance of treatment works. Only four companies met the performance level to reduce sewage flooding in customers homes … Companies urgently need to improve their performance on this measure. There are cases of sustained poor performance over a number of years, such as South West Water.”