Published: 05:00, 20 December 2021
Water company bosses have threatened to take action to recover non-payments from residents who are refusing to pay their bills.
Several times this year, the coastline has been blighted by waste water dumped into the sea by Southern Water, with reports of people falling ill after taking a dip.
A number of frustrated residents - including Faversham-based rocker Bob Geldof - have vowed to withhold payment from the under-fire company until the issue is resolved.
Locals are refusing to pay the Southern Water portion of the charge, while still paying South East Water, which issues a joint bill on behalf of both firms.
And both companies have now told residents “further action will be taken to recover the non-payment”.
But city councillor Ashley Clark, among those refusing to pay their bills, says if “debt collecting thugs” come to his house he will phone the police.
He has since responded to demands for payment by South East Water in a strongly-worded letter.
Writing to the firm’s managing director, the Seasalter councillor states: “I pay Southern Water on the basis that they will act responsibly and treat all waste water before eventual discharge.
“This has not been taking place and it would appear that every time we get rainfall that is used as an excuse to fly tip more sewage into the sea where I swim. On several occasions throughout the period in question, warnings have been made by my local authority telling me not to swim.”
Referring to the £90 million fine Southern Water received earlier this year for illegal sewage releases, the Conservative adds: “Acting as a mere lackey for an organisation with a criminal history does nothing to enhance the reputation of South East Water.
“Accordingly please desist from this unpleasant activity and note that I will entertain no further correspondence from yourselves on the issue.
“If you send the debt collecting thugs around I will have no alternative but to call the police. I owe you nothing.”
Southern Water has also responded to concerns in a letter sent to Whitstable-based author Julie Wassmer - another of those refusing to pay her bill.
Customer relations case manager, Jean Beever, wrote that she is “truly sorry” to read of frustrations regarding discharges into the sea and said she does “understand how angry” Ms Wassmer must feel about this.
“South East Water will continue to bill you for both fresh and waste water services,” it states.
“While I appreciate your strength of feelings around payments towards your waste water changes, our charges are raised under the Water Industry Act 1991.
“I understand that you’ve made an offer of a partial payment, however, we won’t enter into negotiations regarding your bill amount and you’ll need to pay the full bill issued by South East Water.
“Non-payment through South East Water for waste water could lead to them commencing collections activity.”
Ms Wassmer has previously highlighted that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that “services must be provided with reasonable care and skill”.
“In my opinion, Southern Water has clearly not done so when dealing with local waste water - though it has seen fit to reward itself and still claims payment from its customers,” she added.
She has demanded Southern Water fix the problem, offer a price reduction and issue compensation.
The Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof let rip at Southern Water last month during a rare on-stage appearance in his home town of Faversham.
He urged others not to pay their bills and told the scandal-hit firm it can “**** off!”
Tanya Sephton, customer services director at South East Water, said: “While we appreciate our customers’ concerns on the portion of their bill that relates to Southern Water, it is important that all customers continue to pay all of their bill.
“At South East Water we are committed to improving our network and between 2020 and 2025 we will be investing £433 million.
“The payments our customers make are essential for us to carry on providing top quality drinking water and help the environment and local communities thrive.
“Regrettably, if customers continue to withhold payment for the Southern Water portion of their bill, this will be treated as a non-payment, and further action will be taken to recover this non-payment. While we understand their concerns, we would encourage them to reconsider their decision.”
SOS Whitstable, which has organised protests against sewage being discharged, is not encouraging people to decline paying their bills because it could have legal implications for residents.
A public meeting was called in August at St John’s Centre, Swalecliffe, where Southern Water was grilled about releases from its treatment works.
Two directors said about £16 million would be spent to improve the site.
The Environment Agency permits waste water companies to release waste water after periods of heavy rainfall to avoid drains backing up.