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Millions of Anglian Water customers could be entitled to compensation if legal action succeeds

Millions of Anglian Water household customers could be entitled to compensation if legal action claiming the company abused its market position and overcharged consumers succeeds.

The claim has been issued in a Competition Appeal Tribunal against Anglian Water. It is alleged the company broke competition law by misleading the Environment Agency and Ofwat regarding the number of pollution incidents it caused. These spills and discharges cause sewage to flow into rivers and lakes.

The Anglia Water treatment plant Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Anglia Water treatment plant Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Anglian Water supplies water and sewerage services to all or parts of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire and Suffolk. The case has been brought on behalf of 4.8 million customers – and if successful, the potential value of the claim could be as high as £69.5million.

As previously reported, Anglian Water is one of six water companies across the UK facing collective action legal claims. Combined, the claims could lead to compensation payments of more than £800million, should they succeed.

Law firm Leigh Day is acting on behalf of Prof Carolyn Roberts, an environmental and water consultant, who is bringing the claims against Severn Trent Water, Northumbrian Water, United Utilities, Anglian Water, Yorkshire Water and Thames Water on behalf of an estimated 20 million affected customers

Prof Roberts said: “In England and Wales there is growing anger about the state in which sewage discharges leave our rivers and beaches. I hope that the legal claims I am bringing on behalf of 20 million customers could be the start of desperately needed change in the water industry.

“Water companies are required to report pollution incidents accurately as part of their legal duties and responsibilities, but it appears many such incidents go unreported. If these companies had correctly reported the number of pollution incidents, Ofwat would have applied performance penalties, reducing how much these companies could charge their customers. Instead, customers have been, and continue to be, overcharged, and England’s waterways continue to be polluted.”

The number of pollution incidents a company reports to regulators is a key factor in determining the price it can charge consumers for services. The claims argue that customers have been overcharged as a result of the companies’ alleged underreporting.

The Anglian Water treatment plant Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Anglian Water treatment plant Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Zoë Mernick-Levene, head of competition practice and partner at Leigh Day, said: “For the first time in English law, legal action is being taken against six of the largest water companies, on behalf of more than 20 million household customers. These claims are being bought on an ‘opt-out’ basis which means individuals do not need to sign up to bring individual claims; instead, everyone who has suffered loss is included unless they actively choose not to be.

“As well as providing individual compensation and justice, opt-out proceedings also act as a deterrent to future misconduct, as companies know that consumers can act collectively to hold them to account for any rule breaking.”

Customers will only need to come forward at the compensation stage if the claim is successful.

An Anglian Water spokesperson said the company would not comment during ongoing legal action.

However, the company highlighted a comment from industry body Water UK, which said: “This highly speculative claim is entirely without merit. The regulator has confirmed that over 99 per cent of sewage works comply with their legal requirements. If companies fail to deliver on their commitments, then customer bills are already adjusted accordingly.”

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