Southern Water offer discount to customers following Bob Geldof sewage row

Holiday lets

Some of the residents who were encouraged by Bob Geldof to refuse to pay their water bills in protest at sewage spills have been given a discount by the water company.

The Live Aid founder condemned Southern Water for the “vile harm” done to people who swam in seas polluted by raw waste it had failed to treat.

He told a public meeting in Faversham, Kent, last November that the record £90 million fine imposed on the company in July for illegal discharges was a drop in the ocean for it.

“Don’t pay your water bills to Southern Water, they can f*** off,” he said.

Several residents, including Ashley Clark, 66, a Conservative councillor on Canterbury council and a retired detective inspector for Kent police refused to pay the waste water element.

Southern Water charges residents for waste water services, and South East Water, which issues a joint bill on behalf of both companies, charges for the supply of fresh water.

Clark initially received a reminder telling him that unless he paid his account it would be passed to a debt collection agency.

After The Times revealed his protest in December, Southern Water contacted him and invited him to meet one of its directors at his local sewage works to explain the improvements it was making to prevent spills.

Following the meeting, Clark received a call from the debt collection department of South East Water offering him a 50 per cent discount, worth £79. He agreed and posted a cheque for the reduced amount, which was cashed.

Clark said: “It was a matter of conscience for me. I felt if individuals take a principled stand then something might eventually be done.”

Another resident, from Walmer, Kent, who refused to pay because of sewage spills was also offered a 50 per cent discount. Then, when she still refused to pay, they came forward with a 100 per cent discount.

The resident, aged 83, who did not want to be named, said: “It was a matter of principle. They are not keeping their end of the contract because they are spilling sewage in the sea and rivers and underinvesting in infrastructure.”

Julie Wassmer, an author based in Whitstable, who is also refusing to pay her full bill but has yet to be offered any discount, said Southern Water should offer a 100 per cent discount to all 4.7 million wastewater customers the company serves across Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

A Southern Water spokesman said: “We cannot comment on the individual circumstances of customers. We go out of our way to ensure that anyone going into arrears is helped.

“Ultimately, it is the bills customers pay that enable us not only to carry on providing water at the turn of a tap and taking wastewater away, but to invest to protect the environment and boost local economies.”