Ofwat launches investigation into UK's worst performing for water supplier

Tap water

South East Water supplies about 2.2 million customers in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire

Theo Chikomba

By Theo Chikomba

Published: 16/11/2023

- 14:23

South East Water supplies about 2.2 million customers in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire

An investigation has been launched by the regulator, Ofwat, for the water sector in England and Wales into South East Water’s supply resilience over potential failures in maintaining supplies to households.

The water company is currently the worst performer for water supply interruptions in England, according to Ofwat.

They have opened an enforcement case into South East Water to investigate whether it has failed to develop and maintain an efficient water supply system.

The company supplies about 2.2 million customers in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire.

South West Water van

South West Water said it intended to fully cooperate


Between 2022-23 there was an average 3 hours, 2 minutes and 21 seconds lost per property compared with its performance commitment level of 5 minutes and 45 seconds.

David Black, Ofwat’s chief executive, said: “Providing reliable water supplies is at the heart of a water company’s responsibilities. Too many customers have been failed too often by South East Water.

“That’s why we are now carrying out a thorough investigation into the company and its service to customers.

“We are clear that water companies must do more to regain public trust and it must start with better service. Where this does not happen, we will use all of our powers to ensure the sector delivers better value for both customers and the environment.”

A South East Water spokesperson the water company has said they intent to fully cooperate with Ofwat on this matter.

They added, “We acknowledge the decision by Ofwat to open this investigation.

“Resilience forms a major focus for South East Water both now, and as a significant part of our PR24 business plan which has been submitted to Ofwat.”

Earlier this year customers of South East Water announced customers would face fines of up to £1,000 after announcing a hosepipe and sprinkler ban for people living in Kent and Sussex.

More than 6,000 homes were left without running water for up to a week in June, while 286,000 households were in the same situation before Christmas.

Another interruption to supplies, which included discoloured water last February, resulted in £3.2 million fine from the regulator, Ofwat.

However, launching an investigation does not suggest Ofwat will determine that there has been a breach or that the regulator will pursue formal enforcement action or impose a financial penalty.

The Consumer Council for Water said it was supporting Ofwat’s investigation. They published joint research which looks into water supply interruptions that had an impact on South East Water customers in June 2023.

They heard from customers who shared their experiences “Participants in the research believed that for many the poor way the company handled the incident made the experience worse.

"This led to feelings of frustration and, in some cases, anger, and a loss of trust in the company.”

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