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Water Company Inspections

Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2024

The Government are announcing plans today for a fourfold increase in water company inspections to drive the improved performance that the public rightly expect to see. Going forward, every water company operating wholly or mainly in England should expect their wastewater treatment sites to be regularly inspected by the Environment Agency (EA), and they should be in no doubt that this is driven by a need to crack down on their totally unacceptable, unlawful actions.

We have already increased our oversight of water companies and the EA have carried out over 930 inspections to date in this financial year. But the Government are going further and the number of inspections, including unannounced inspections, will rise to 4,000 by the end of March 2025—a fourfold increase. From April 2026, the number of inspections will rise further to 10,000 per year.

Increased inspections and enforcement will be backed by at least £55 million per annum. This will be fully funded through a combination of increased grant-in-aid from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Environment Agency, and additional funding from water quality permit charges levied on water companies, subject to consultation.

More inspections will allow the Environment Agency to conduct more in-depth audits to get to the root cause of incidents, reducing the reliance on operator self-monitoring, which was introduced in 2009. Alongside more in-person inspections of water company assets, the EA will expand its specialised workforce, including by hiring more data specialists to make better use of analytics and technology. This follows the Government’s instruction to water companies to now monitor 100% of all storm overflows. New monitoring and enhanced EA data analytics will help detect instances where storm overflows may be used illegally, so that the Environment Agency can quickly direct new specialist officers to any sites at risk, identify any non-compliance and take action.

The EA is already conducting the largest ever criminal investigation into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at thousands of sewage treatment works. Since 2015, the EA has concluded 59 prosecutions against water and sewerage companies, securing fines of over £150 million.

We know that people across the country want to see more progress in tackling pollution, and if water companies break the law, under our new plans, they will be held to account.