Investigation launched into South East Water after company found to be one of the worst performers in England and Wales

South East Water, which supplies drinking water to 2.2 million customers across Kent, Surrey and Sussex, is being investigated by Ofwat following fears that it has failed to develop and maintain an efficient water supply system.
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The investigation comes after Ofwat summoned the water company’s board to explain its performance over the last year and a half. In its latest Water Company Performance Report, the national regulator said South East Water is “lagging behind” the national standard and mandated it published a service commitment plan by the end of this month to address several areas of underperformance, including supply interruptions.

"We acknowledge the decision by Ofwat to open this investigation,” a South East Water official said, adding that the company intends to co-operate with Ofwat while the investigation takes place.

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“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.”

Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty ImagesPhoto by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images
Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

The company is currently the worst performer in England and Wales for supply interruptions. Between 2022 and 2023, there was an average service loss of 3 hours, 2 minutes and 21 seconds per property; considerably more than the performance commitment level of five minutes and 45 seconds.

The company’s business plan will see them invest £1.9 billion into their infrastructure over a five year period, with the aim of improving customer service, reduce customer supply interruptions, and strengthen network resilience, although this will result in a bill increase for customers, from an anticipated average of £19.33 a month in 2025 to £23.12 a month by 2030.

South East Water officials believe this new plan will allow them to invest in new sources of sustainable water, build new nitrate plants, increase resilience, safeguard vulnerable customers and increase drinking water storage capacity in the right locations across the UK.

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Ahead of the regulator’s investigation, David Black, Ofwat CEO 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.”

The company was keen to make clear, however, that opening a case against South East Water does not itself mean that Ofwat will conclude there has been a formal breach of regulations, or will pursue formal enforcement action, but news of the investigation has nonetheless had an impact.

Mike Keil, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, declared his support for Ofwat’s decision: “Customers’ trust and confidence in South East Water has been undermined by the company’s repeated poor handling of supply interruptions and we will do all we can to support Ofwat’s investigation,” he said. “There was considerable anger and frustration among many people who felt unsupported, compounded by the company’s poor communication. Customers have a right to expect better from an essential service provider.”