Southern Water fined over sewage

Southern WaterSouthern Water has been fined £200,000 after discharging raw sewage into the sea, the Environment Agency (EA) has said.

Defective pumps at Margate pumping station in Kent led to several discharges of untreated sewage between January and June 2011.
The repeated failure of the pumps meant Southern Water was unable to pump the sewage to Weatherlees Works for treatment, and instead discharged it into the sea off Margate.

Canterbury Crown Court also heard that the firm, which serves Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, failed to tell the EA or the local food authority about the discharges.
Last month the company pleaded guilty to breaching its strict environmental permit and causing avoidable releases of untreated sewage to enter the sea, the EA said.

Following sentencing, Andy Stamp, the EA's environment officer, said: "We would rather work with companies to assist them to comply with their environmental permits and minimise the risk to the environment.

"When, however, this does not happen there should be consequences.

"We take these types of incidents very seriously and will do everything within our powers to safeguard the environment and people affected, and that includes bringing those who harm the environment to account for their actions."

Southern Water "unreservedly apologised" and said it had spent £1.7 million addressing "complex engineering issues" at the pumping station which caused the problems.

Another £400,000 is earmarked and plans for another pumping station are being drawn up, the firm added. It said it has supported the local tourist industry with a series of promotional projects.

Southern Water director Geoff Loader said that, although the company had failed to operate within its environmental permit, Margate beaches had continued to meet European quality standards.

He said: "Importantly, the majority of beaches in the Margate area continue to have water quality sufficient to meet the Blue Flag standards and all meet European standards.

"Therefore, although we have breached our permit, we have not caused any deterioration in the water quality of Margate's beaches and, overall, our current treatment system has delivered improvements leading to Blue Flag water quality.

"However, failures with our plant are not acceptable.

"We fully understand the importance of water quality to the reputation of Thanet as a leading tourist resort in the UK and we will always work to protect and enhance that."

10 consumer rights you should know
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Southern Water fined over sewage

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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