Published: 05:00, 10 November 2021
| Updated: 14:33, 10 November 2021
A senior city councillor is among a number of frustrated residents refusing to pay their Southern Water bills amid the ongoing sewage scandal.
The district's coastline has been blighted by waste water dumped into the sea by the under-fire firm, with reports of people falling ill after taking a dip.
Such is the level of resentment among locals that many are withholding payment from the company - which was fined 90 million this year for illegal sewage releases - until the issue is resolved.
Among them is Seasalter councillor Ashley Clark.
In a strongly worded letter to Southern Water, he writes: "I have no intention of contributing to the £90 million fine recently imposed on that company for criminal activity.
"Throughout the summer Southern Water has continued to send my untreated sewerage - along with that of other local people - directly into the sea which I use on a daily basis to swim from April to October.
"I find the thought of swimming in a mixture of local sewerage and seawater totally abhorrent and not something that I should be charged for.
"If I paid someone to clear out my garage and take rubbish away to the tip but instead they fly-tipped it into the countryside I would be upset. Canterbury City Council prosecutes offenders for that type of activity.
"Yet Southern Water continues to fly-tip sewage into my bathing water with impunity and spend my contributions on both director's bonus payments and shareholder dividends rather than treating sewerage which hitherto I have paid for.
"Accordingly, I will not be paying the £158.63 claimed by Southern Water until such time as I am satisfied that all my payment is being used for the intended purpose and I am compensated for the days on which I was advised not to swim in the sea.
"Profits should only be taken and bonuses paid when contractual liabilities have been fulfilled. This is not currently the case."
While Cllr Clark is refusing to pay his Southern Water bill, he is continuing to pay for clean water supplied by South East Water.
He says withholding payment is an "individual decision no different from what any right-thinking citizen would do in dealing with a rogue trader".
Whitstable author Julie Wassmer is also joining Cllr Clark in refusing to pay her bill.
"The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that 'services must be provided with reasonable care and skill'," she says.
"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 has demanded Southern Water fix the problem, offer a price reduction and issue compensation.
Couple Steven Wheeler, 60, and Emma Gibson, 52, are also refusing to cough up.
They wrote to the firm: "Throughout the summer you have continued to discharge our untreated sewage, along with that of other local residents, directly into the sea in which our children regularly swim.
"If we wanted our children to swim in their own faeces we would carry our waste to the beach and dump it in the sea.
"The thought is abhorrent and we think you will agree that it is unacceptable to be charged by Southern Water to treat our sewage when you fail to do so.
"We also believe that we should be compensated for those days on which Southern Water knowingly discharged our sewage into the sea."
Hundreds of people gathered in Tankerton last month to protest against sewage being discharged into the sea at an event organised by campaign group SOS Whitstable.
One of its founding members, Sally Burtt-Jones, says it is not encouraging people to decline paying their bills.
"We have chosen not to because what we understand is there could be legal implications and what we don’t want to do is encourage people in the community that could be at risk, old or vulnerable," she said.
"We don’t want to be responsible for getting them into issues with their credit ratings.
"We have taken advice from local lawyers about whether this could be harmful to people and we have made a decision not to encourage people to do it."
Southern Water was hit with the record fine in July after unleashing up to 21 billion litres of sewage into protected waters between 2010 and 2015.
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.
A spokesman for Southern Water said the Environment Agency permits companies to release wastewater to protect from flooding and ensure customers can use their toilets, showers and washing machines as normal.
"Public awareness of storm releases is growing and there are increasing calls for the highly regulated practice to end," they said.
"We support these calls and have adopted a pioneering approach.
"While simply separating all sewers from surface drains would be a hugely expensive and disruptive process, we believe that a partnership approach is the best way forward.
"Regulation on sustainable drainage must be changed so rainwater separation is built in to all new construction.
"Investment in natural capital such as enhanced and expanded wetlands will be key."
MPs this week backed new Environment Bill measures which will require water companies to reduce sewage discharges.
But, to much public backlash, they again rejected placing a legal responsibility on companies to stop waste water being dumped into rivers and the sea.