Southern Water has been hit with a record £126 million penalty package after a “shocking” Ofwat probe uncovered failures in the firm’s sewage treatment sites and found hat it fixed wastewater samples.
Customers of the utility company will now receive rebates of £61 over the next five years after Southern Water agreed to the package, which, given the size of the firm, is the largest the regulator has ever imposed.
Ofwat said its large-scale investigation found that Southern Water failed to operate a number of wastewater treatment works properly, including by not making the necessary investment, which led to equipment failures and spills of wastewater into the environment.
The watchdog added that Southern Water also manipulated its wastewater sampling process, which led to it misreporting information to Ofwat and avoiding penalties in previous years.
Southern Water will refund £123 million to customers through their bills and pay a fine of £3 million.
The rebate includes £91 million in penalties Southern Water had avoided and a further £32 million of payments as recognition of its serious failures.
The package was reduced after Southern Water co-operated with the watchdog.
Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher said: “What we found in this case is shocking.
“In all, it shows the company was being run with scant regard for its responsibilities to society and the environment.
“It was not just the poor operational performance, but the co-ordinated efforts to hide and deceive customers of the fact that are so troubling.”
She added: “It is now for Southern Water, under its new leadership, and with the improvements it is introducing, to show it has learnt from this unacceptable behaviour and can be trusted again.”
The Environment Agency is now investigating Southern Water and the environmental impact of its actions.