Yorkshire Water is to face legal action over allegations of under-reporting pollution incidents and overcharging customers.
It is one of six water companies being challenged about their behaviour.
Yorkshire Water, along with Severn Trent, Thames, United Utilities, Anglian and Northumbrian Water could end up paying over £800 million in compensation to more than 20 million customers if the cases are successful.
Professor Carolyn Roberts, an environmental and water consultant represented by Leigh Day Solicitors, claims these water companies have broken competition laws by misleading the Environment Agency and the regulator Ofwat.
She alleges they have been underreporting the number of sewage discharges, resulting in customers being “unfairly overcharged” for wastewater services, and that had sewage discharge reporting been accurate it would have lowered customer bills.
The first claim, brought on behalf of eight million people against Severn Trent Water, is estimated to be worth more than £330 million.
Further claims will be brought against the other companies in what Leigh Day said is the first environmental collective action case of its kind.
Viewed with horror
Prof Roberts said: “Like many others across the country, I have viewed with horror the escalating number of stories in the media regarding the volume of sewage discharged into our waterways and on to our beaches.
“The population of the UK has a right to expect that our rivers, lakes and seas will generally be clean, except under exceptional circumstances.
“It appears that because of the serial and serious underreporting at the heart of these claims, water companies have been avoiding being penalised by Ofwat.
“I believe this has resulted in consumers being unfairly overcharged for sewage services.”
Anyone who has paid a water bill to one or more of these companies from April 2020 may be entitled to compensation if the claims are successful.
If successful, solicitors expect any compensation to be paid by the relevant water company and its shareholders, not by raising customer bills.
YorkMix has repeatedly reported about the sewage spills into the River Ouse in York by Yorkshire Water.
Untreated human waste was discharged into the river from the storm drain near the back of Boots on Coney Street 79 times last year.
Yorkshire Water is yet to do anything to fix the problem. But a spokesperson did say the company wants to “do our bit for river health”.
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