Water company inspections will more than quadruple as the government aims to crack down on poor-performing companies in new plans announced today (Tuesday, February 20).

There will be up to 500 additional staff for inspections, enforcement and stronger regulation over the next three years. Recruitment is currently underway.

Increased inspections and enforcement will be backed by around £55 million each year.

The Environment Agency has said it is already ramping up inspections on water company assets, with over 930 completed so far this financial year.

Today’s announcement goes further as water company inspections carried out by the Environment Agency will rise to 4,000/year by the end of March 2025, and then to 10,000/year from April 2026.

This will include an increase in unannounced inspections, with the aim of strengthening oversight of water companies and reducing the reliance on water company self-monitoring, which was established in 2009.  

This will be fully funded through increased grant-in-aid from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to the Environment Agency and additional funding from water quality permit charges levied on water companies, subject to a public consultation closing in March 2024.

‘We need to get much tougher’

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay: “We are clear that we need to get much tougher with unannounced inspections to bring an end to the routine lawbreaking we have seen from water companies, which is what this announcement will deliver. 

“We are going further to quadruple the Environment Agency’s regulatory capacity – allowing them to carry out 4,000 water company inspections by the end of the next financial year.” 

Environment Agency chair Alan Lovell said: “Last year we set out measures to transform the way we regulate the water industry to uncover non-compliance and drive better performance. 

“Today’s announcement builds on that. Campaign groups and the public want to see the Environment Agency better resourced to do what it does best, regulate for a better environment.  

“Proposals to get extra boots on the ground to increase inspection visits will help further strengthen our regulation of the industry.”   

With 100% of storm overflows now monitored, data-driven analytics will also help the Environment Agency map discharges against rainfall more effectively so it can quickly direct new specialist officers to any sites at risk, identify any non-compliance and take action. 

The Environment Agency is currently conducting the largest ever criminal investigation into potential widespread non-compliance by water and sewerage companies at thousands of sewage treatment works.