315,000 Severn Trent customers struggling with water bills

Severn Trent CEO Liv Garfield reveals new scheme to help customers hit by the cost of living crisis as water company announces £247m profits

A worrying 315,000 Severn Trent customers are finding it difficult to pay their water bills as the cost of living crisis deepens.

The shocking figure was revealed as the FTSE 100 listed company announced it has made £247m profits on a £2bn turnover this morning (May 25).

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CEO Liv Garfield revealed Severn Trent had introduced a £30m scheme to help customers who are encountering difficulties to pay their water bills during an interview about the company’s profits on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

The company serves over 8m people across the Midlands and those in financial trouble could see their bills reduced by 90%.

Ms Garfield explained that Severn Trent is partnering with local councils, charities and Citizens Advice Bureaux to reach out to people in financial difficulty to help them secure their supply of water to their homes.

Live Garfield, chief executive of Severn Trent. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

She said: “The big news today is that we are announcing that we’ve created a new £30m fund to help people in our region to pay their water bill.

“We agree 100 per cent that if people are struggling with this increased cost of living we want to make sure that not one of our customers has to worry about the water bill landing on their doorstep.

“There could be as many as 315,000 customers that are struggling and our £30m fund bolsters a huge scheme we already have and this will mean that we will be able to support all 315,000 customers who are struggling.

“We’re not talking small amounts of money. We actually have up to a 90 per cent reduction off the bill. We want to make sure that our customers know about the scheme and that this is one bit of light, maybe, in a lot of other costs.”

Water and sewerage bills will rise to £419 from April for the average household in England and Wales. The rise will add an extra £7 to bills, which is a 1.7% increase. In Scotland, water and sewerage prices depend on your council tax band and are covered by a “combined service charge”. Scottish households will see water and waste charges increase by 4.2% on average from April. In Northern Ireland, non-domestic water and sewerage charges will rise by 0.9%, in line with inflation, from 1 April.

Are shareholders benefitting from the £247m profits? And how much does the CEO earn?

Ms Garfield, who has earned £17m in her role since 2014, also defended Severn Trent’s decision to reward its shareholders with dividends in line with inflation.

She said that many of the shareholders are pensioners whose pension payments are paid through Severn Trent earnings.

She said: “Most of our shareholders are retailers, which means they are pensioners - so we’re talking about pensioners in the UK who are also grappling with cost of living.

“What we’ve announced today is our current dividend policy. And what we are conscious of is that there are two groups that we need to look after. We need to look after the people who are struggling to pay their bills and we need to look after the long term shareholders that are your mum and dad, my mum and dad, and almost certainly have Severn Trent shares somewhere in their pension pot that are also feeling that same bite.”

Image caption, Issues were identified at Severn Trent treatment works across Worcestershire, the Environment Agency said

Should the CEO be paid millions when our rivers are still polluted?

Ms Garfield defended the amount she has been paid over the last eight years - despite Severn Trent being fined £1.5m for discharging 360,000 literes of sewage into a single brook in Evesham last year. The pollution took place in 2018 which the company explained was due to a blockage at its treatment works in Blackminster.

She explained that her pay was bonus related and that Severn Trent supports projects to clean up our rivers.

Ms Garfield said: “In terms of rivers, absolutely there’s more that we can do and more that all of us can do. And while rivers are in the best shape they’ve been since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve invested £12bn since privatisation and we’ve committed to going further. Just a few weeks ago we released ‘river pledges’.

“My bonus and any related pay is 75% linked to performance, so I only get paid on that basis if we do well against the metrics, including pollution metrics.

“Severn Trent has been seen to be the leading company in the sector for the last few years.  We’ve been named by the Environment Agency as being a company that supports anti-pollution measures.”

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