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‘I won’t pay my water bill until companies clean up their act on sewage’

Featured in The I this week, author Julie Wassmer talks about being among a growing number of people boycotting their water bills in protest of sewage spills

A woman who has refused to pay her water bill for more than two years said she is prepared to fight her water company in court if it doesn’t “clean up its act”.

Author Julie Wassmer, 71, from Whitstable, Kent, is boycotting her water bill in protest at sewage water being dispersed into Britain’s rivers, lakes and seas.

Ms Wassmer says she stopped paying the wastewater portion of her bill from Southern Water in October 2021 and currently owes the firm £885.

Southern Water sent Ms Wassmer a pre-action protocol document over her boycott, which is a legal document filled out by parties involved in a dispute to try to resolve it before court proceedings are commenced.

She told i that Southern Water has threatened her with legal action, but said she is willing to file a counter-claim against the firm if it ends up in court.

“My slogan has been ‘I can pay, but I won’t pay until the water companies clean up their act’,” she said.

She added: “It will be a legal argument that goes to the heart of the issue regarding companies’ insistence that we have a statutory obligation to pay for unsatisfactory services.

“I believe that this can and will be disputed.”

Water companies are allowed to discharge untreated waste during times of exceptional rainfall to prevent their infrastructure from becoming overwhelmed.

But concerns have been growing around the amount of times firms are dumping untreated sewage with more than 384,000 spills reported by water companies in 2022.

In 2021, Southern Water was fined a record £90m by the Environment Agency after pleading guilty to thousands of illegal discharges between 2010 and 2015.

Ms Wassmer is part of a growing movement of people who are refusing to pay their water bills in protest of the sewage scandal. She has teamed up with boycotters from Hastings to launch the website, which she claims has brought together thousands of people withholding money from all 11 water companies in England and Wales.

Among these boycotters is Jo Bateman, who recently told i she is suing South West Water over its illegal sea sewage discharges.

Ms Bateman, whose swims daily in Exmouth, Devon to help her with her depression, claims the discharges have prevented her from taking her daily dips, which has had an impact both on her mental and her physical health.

South West Water, which has until 12 February to file its defence, declined to comment on Ms Bateman’s claim.

A spokesman for the company said: “We take our responsibility to the environment very seriously and are investing record amounts to reduce the use of permitted storm overflows across the region, including circa £38m earmarked for Exmouth up to 2030.”

Katy Taylor, Southern Water’s chief customer officer, said the firm was “conscious of the impact we have on our environment” and was investing £3bn over the next five years to reduce sewage spills.

She said: “We are trying to balance getting this done quickly with keeping customer bills as low as possible, and will only move at a pace that is acceptable to our communities.

“Not only do customer bills pay for vital water and wastewater services, they also play a huge part in helping us support our most vulnerable customers, allowing us to offer payment holidays, special tariffs, debt write-offs, bill reductions and grants for household items. ”

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