Thames Water to expand ‘sewer abuse’ prosecutions to household customers

Water company Thames Water plans to expand its prosecutions for “sewer abuse” to the general public, according to the water company’s annual report.

Thames Water revealed in its annual report last month an intention to expand the reach of its prosecutions from largely businesses to also include household customers, in what a spokesperson has said is part of work tackling the disposal of wet-wipes, fat, oil, and grease down drains.

Last year, the water company brought a “landmark prosecution” against one of the UK’s biggest pub management companies after it allowed large amounts of fat and oil to get into the Thames Water sewer network in Oxfordshire.

Mitchells & Butlers Leisure Retail Ltd, which owns pub and restaurant chains including Toby Carvery, Harvester and Miller & Carter was ordered to pay out more than £90,000.

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In its annual report for 2021/2022, Thames Water wrote: “This year we successfully brought three non-household prosecutions for sewer abuse. In 2022, we will expand our reach to include household customers.”

Commenting to the Telegraph about its plan, a spokesperson for the company said that putting non-flushable wet-wipes, fat, oil and grease down drains is illegal "regardless if you are a company or a domestic customer".

They continued to say that the company has been “engaging non-household customers through this process for several years and are now looking to implement this for anyone who abuses our sewer network," and added that it would look to "educate" customers before prosecuting.

The company can make visits to places where it suspects blockages are being caused, and the spokesperson told the newspaper that those who are "unwilling to engage" and "continue to cause damage to our sewer" will be subject to repeated visits.

"We collect evidence, check for improvements, and where sewer abuse is continuing we may seek to recover the associated costs we have incurred and/or we may prosecute. If we’re refused entry to the premises, i.e. to carry out an inspection, we may request a warrant to gain access."

Thames Water has faced a number of prosecutions itself in recent years due to the dumping of raw sewage into England’s waterways, and is one of six water companies currently under investigation by the water industry’s economic regulator, Ofwat, due to concerns over the management of its sewage treatment works.

In November last year, the company was landed with a £4 million fine for what the company’s own sustainability director called an “entirely unacceptable” spill of half a million litres of raw sewage into an Oxford stream, its third multi-million pound fine of 2021.

In another document as part of Thames Water’s annual reporting, it states that during the year 2021 - 2022 the firm faced “considerable scrutiny over [its] ability to demonstrate compliance with environmental permitting regulations regarding wastewater treatment works. This includes the enforcement case opened by Ofwat and investigation by the Environment Agency.

It goes on to note that the company missed a performance target to ensure there are no more than 24.87 "pollution incidents" per 10,000 km of sewers, equivalent to 271 incidents.

"While we missed our target, we reduced pollutions by 7% during the year (2020: 292) So, despite our improved performance, we incurred a penalty," the report says.