New Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Steve Reed, has announced steps towards ending the “crisis” in the water sector.

Defra said the new measures, announced today (Thursday, July 11), represent a change after years of failure to ensure the water industry cuts illegal sewage dumping.

As well as this, the measures aim to attract major private-sector investment to upgrade infrastructure while prioritising the interests of customers and the environment.

This afternoon, Reed will also meet with water company chief executives to make clear that water companies will be “answerable for their performance for customers and the environment”.

He will set out his plans to work in partnership with the sector and investors to attract investment, jobs and clean up the nation’s waterways.


Reed has written to Ofwat to ask it to make sure funding for vital infrastructure investment is ringfenced and can only be spent on upgrades benefiting customers and the environment.

He also wants Ofwat to ensure that when money for investment is not spent, companies refund customers, with money never allowed to be diverted for bonuses, dividends or salary increases.

He said he now expects water companies to change their ‘Articles of Association’ – the rules governing each company – to make the interests of customers and the environment a primary objective.

Reed said consumers will gain new powers to hold water company bosses to account through powerful new customer panels.

For the first time in history, customers will have the power to summon board members and hold water executives to account.

There will also be strengthened protection and compensation for households and businesses when their basic water services are affected.

Subject to consultation, the amount of compensation customers are legally entitled to when key standards are not met will more than double.

The payments will also be triggered by a wider set of circumstances including Boil Water Notices.

‘Unacceptable destruction of waterways’

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Reed, said: “We will never look the other way while water companies pump sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas.

“This unacceptable destruction of our waterways should never have been allowed, but change has now begun so it can never happen again.

“Today I have announced significant steps to clean up the water industry to cut sewage pollution, protect customers and attract investment to upgrade its crumbling infrastructure.”

“That change will take time. Over the coming weeks and months, this government will outline further steps to reform the water sector and restore our rivers, lakes and seas to good health.”

These steps sit alongside the government’s manifesto commitments to put failing water companies under tough special measures to clean up our waterways, Defra said.