Don’t Pay for Dirty Water campaign vows to get 10,000 to boycott water bills

Photo copyright XR-BCP

A bill payers’ boycott targets Wessex Water and demands they fast-track infrastructure upgrades and stop dumping raw sewage in our seas and rivers.

Extinction Rebellion Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (XR BCP) has launched a new campaign calling for ten thousand people nationwide, including Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) residents, to stop paying their wastewater bills. The aim is to force companies to end the practice of pouring 11 billion litres of raw sewage every year into UK rivers and seas.

The ‘Don’t Pay for Dirty Water’ campaign, which targets all of the major water companies nationwide, kicked off with a splash on 27 January 2024. Campaigners put up a warning sign at Bournemouth Pier highlighting “Sewage Ahead”. They also flew a brown flag – subverting the iconic blue flag, which is the internationally known sign for beautiful bathing spots, into something closer to the truth.

The organisers vow to sign up at least 10,000 people to withhold the wastewater or sewage part of their water bill. By collectively withholding millions of pounds, the boycotters hope to pressure water companies and the government to fast-track infrastructure upgrades and stop diverting ordinary billpayers’ money into massive profits for shareholders while billpayers’ local waterways are poisoned.

Seventeen water companies in England and Wales paid out more than £1.4bn to shareholders in 2022/23. Meanwhile, just one company, Thames Water, dumps nearly 10,000 Olympic swimming pools of untreated sewage into waterways every year and recently announced plans to lay off 300 workers.

Caz Dennett, 52, a research director from Weymouth, who is one of the boycotters, said:

“It is a total rip-off to keep paying for a service you aren’t getting. Raw sewage was pumped into seas and rivers in England and Wales 825 times every day in 2022. Meanwhile in the same year water company shareholders made £965m. Enough is enough. The sewage isn’t being dealt with properly, so I’ve stopped paying for that part of my bill.

“More than 200 people that I know of are already boycotting their sewerage bills. This campaign connects boycotters, makes it safer for individuals and more impactful overall.

“If 10,000 people boycott their bills, it will cost the companies millions in just a few months and they will start listening, because money is the only language they understand. Together we have power and remember, legally they can’t cut off your water. If you are sick of sewage destroying ecosystems, join thousands taking a stand around the country.”

Photo copyright XR-BCP

A step-by-step process to make the boycott process as safe as possible is laid out on the ‘Don’t Pay For Dirty Water’ page of the Extinction Rebellion UK website. There are instructions on how to withhold payment for the sewage only; stopping payment for water as well runs a risk of getting into debt or poor credit ratings.

It is important to log a complaint at the same time as withholding payment. Once the complaint is resolved, the payments become due immediately. The website includes template letters addressed to regulators and advice as well as a counter that goes up as new people sign on.

As a personal comment:

“I withheld the payment for my sewage bill for 18 months. I was in regular contact with Wessex Water but was not satisfied with their response. I am a keen wild swimmer and I find my health really benefits from regular sea swimming at Bournemouth’s beaches.

However, in recent years there have been many occasions when I’ve not been able to swim, because of the 48-hour avoid swim recommendation, following Wessex Water online alerts that they have discharged sewage into the sea via their local sewer overflow pipes!”

Wessex Water is only permitted to release untreated sewage into our waterways during exceptional circumstances, such as heavy rains or storms. However, they are being investigated by the water regulator Ofwat and the Environment Agency over potentially illegal routine dumping of raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters, for example the release of sewage during dry weather.

“How can Wessex Water be allowed to continue to pump raw sewage into our rivers and seas when they are clearly endangering human lives, destroying ecosystems and wrecking the tourism economy? This has to stop!

“Beaches have closed across the UK, and people have become sick from rivers. This country needs to start putting people and nature before profits. Don’t pay for dirty water.”

Photo copyright XR-BCP

A UK Environmental Audit Committee report states on page 39 that “a ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, agricultural waste, plastic and persistent chemicals is polluting rivers.” It goes on to say that

“The prevalence of plastic pollution, the presence of persistent chemicals and spread of antimicrobial resistant pathogens in rivers in England are all issues of grave concern. Not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.”

Katy Colley and Julie Wassmer, spokespersons for said:

“We’re thrilled that XR BCP is following in the footsteps of Boycott Water Bills, a website launched in June this year with information and advice gained from those of us who have been withholding payment for up to two years or more.

“The response has been astonishing with dissatisfied customers contacting us from all over the UK and we can report that 10 out of the 11 water companies in England and Wales are being boycotted for their inadequate wastewater treatment services. With a regulatory system not fit for purpose we see no other way to hold water companies to account.”

Editor: This initiative comes as anger mounts across the country over the parlous state of our rivers and the dumping of sewage on our beaches and the scant legal or financial consequence for pollution and lack investment by the privatised water companies. This week saw Exmouth sea-swimmer, Jo Bateman, driven to sue South West Water. She will, no doubt, have the support of tens of thousands. Good!