Bob Geldof: “Don’t pay your water bills!”

Water companies in the UK pump raw sewage into rivers, lakes and seas every day. Is not paying our water bills the way to stop them?

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Environmental campaigners and water company customers have received strongly worded support from Sir Bob Geldof. Speaking at a public meeting near his home, Geldof criticised Southern Water for repeatedly dumping raw sewage in the sea. He backs non-payment of water bills as a protest. 


Why does Sir Bob Geldof support not paying water bills?

Specifically, Bob Geldof endorses refusing to pay wastewater charges to Southern Water, the supplier for Kent. Or, as he puts it, “Don’t pay your bills to Southern Water – they can **** off!” 

As regular polluters, Southern Water must pay a fine of £90 million. However, there is concern that fines are not effective at preventing further instances of pollution if the company is still able to make a profit. Geldof suggests stronger measures, such as prison sentences, would be a more effective deterrent.

A few unpaid water bills may not worry a water company or its shareholders, but it will create negative publicity at a time when people want to invest ethically. 

Effectively, Southern Water charges its customers to remove wastewater and sewage, then dumps it untreated on those customers’ own local beaches. The protest began after beaches were closed several times due to contamination. 

What happens if you don’t pay your water bill?

Domestic customers have only one supplier to choose from. Therefore, non-payment of water bills would leave them in a rather awkward position. 

According to Citizens Advice, “If you are a domestic (non-business customer), water companies can’t, by law, disconnect or restrict your water supply if you owe them money.” Therefore, the water company cannot turn off your supply.

However, failing to pay bills can still land you in trouble. After sending reminders, the water company may involve a debt recovery agency. Eventually, you may be dealing with bailiffs and court proceedings. This would affect your credit rating and certainly won’t save you money in the long run.

What can you do if you’re dissatisfied with your water company?

Even though we have no choice over which company sends us our water bills, it’s important to make your views known to them in the first instance. Following a formal complaint to your water company, you can contact the Consumer Council for Water (CCW). Not paying your water bills should be a very last resort.

It also makes sense to get in touch with your local MP to emphasise your dissatisfaction with your area’s designated water company. A recent vote in parliament should lead to some restrictions on the amount of sewage pumped into Britain’s rivers, lakes and seas. However, these new regulations probably don’t go far enough. 


Why can’t you switch your water supplier? 

The water industry was privatised in 1989 and due to the logistics of water supply, the market is not competitive. The government has been reluctant to rectify this situation due to the complex arrangements and red tape that would have to be implemented. 

However, a system where we could compare water companies, as we do energy suppliers, is not completely out of the question. Business customers in England are already able to switch water companies. The ability to change providers would enable householders to buycott in favour of companies with higher ethical standards. 

Should you stop paying your water bill in protest?

As reported in Kent Online, refusing to pay is a personal choice. The campaign group SOS Whitstable, at the centre of the sewage war with Southern Water, does not advise withholding payment of water bills. This is because of the legal implications and the effect on credit scores. 

A positive way to use your wallet to protest would be to support organisations that campaign to end water pollution. This would help to put continued pressure on water companies to invest to solve the problem. 

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be assessed. Consider taking independent financial advice.

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