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The Guardian: Southern Water Offers Bill Discounts to Sewage Protestors

Firm makes apparent concession to boycott that began over untreated discharges into coastal waters

Thu 24 Feb 2022 11.57 GMT

Southern Water is offering discounts on bills to some people engaged in a non-payment protest campaign over raw sewage discharges, in an apparent concession to the boycott. The non-payment protest, which was backed by Sir Bob Geldof, began because of anger at the level of untreated sewage discharged into coastal waters. It came after the water company was fined a record £90m for discharging billions of litres of raw sewage into the seas of Kent and Hampshire from 2010-15. An Environment Agency investigation is ongoing into more recently alleged illegal discharges. Those refusing to pay their bills include a local Conservative councillor, Ashley Clark. Earlier this month Clark was offered a 50% discount on his bill of £158.63. In a letter to the company, Clark has accepted the discount. He said: “This I accept on the basis … that it is proper to make a contribution in respect of the times that sewage in this area was treated in accordance with expectations. “It remains my contention that it is wholly inappropriate to contribute in respect of releases that prudent action and timely investment would have largely prevented.” Clark said despite Southern Water explaining the difficulties of surface water ingressing into treatment works, he believed the matters should have been addressed following privatisation a generation ago. He said that over a six-month period covered by his bill there were 49 days of sewage pollution alerts. Julie Wassmer, an author from Whitstable who is also a non-payer, said she had yet to be offered a discount but that a 100% concession had been offered to a resident in east Kent. She said: “Now that the company has given a 50% discount on the original demand to one boycotter, and offered concession to another resident in Kent, then clearly the company must offer the same concession to the remaining boycotters. “In the interest of fairness, Southern Water should offer a 100% discount to all 4.7 million wastewater customers the company serves across Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.” Donna Howden, the head of customer services at Southern Water, said: “We cannot comment on the individual circumstances of any customer. We support customers who are going through tough times, including [through] payment holidays, special tariffs, debt write-offs, bill reductions and grants for household items. “Southern Water currently provides over 126,000 customers with some form of financial assistance, an increase of 21,000 since the start of the pandemic. Last year we provided over £12.5m worth of support. Ultimately, it is the bills customers pay which enable us not only to carry on providing water at the turn of a tap and taking wastewater away but to invest to protect the environment and boost local economies.”

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