A WATER provider will have to reimburse almost £30 million to its customers due to its poor performance.

Southern Water failed to hit its targets for water treatment, pollution incidents and internal sewer flooding across 2021/22.

The company will now have to reduce customers’ bills by £28.3 million after “falling short” in water regulator Ofwat’s latest annual report.

It is one of the worst water and wastewater providers in the country, along with Thames Water.

The Argus: West Beach area in Lancing in December last yearWest Beach area in Lancing in December last year (Image: Newsquest)

Ofwat chief executive David Black said: "When it comes to delivering for their customers, too many water companies are falling short, and we are requiring them to return around £150 million to their customers.

"We expect companies to improve their performance every year,  where they fail to do so, we will hold them to account.

“The poorest performers, Southern Water and Thames Water, will have to return almost £80 million to their customers. All water companies need to earn back the trust of customers and the public and we will continue to challenge the sector to improve."

Thames Water has to pay its customers £51 million.

The reimbursement will affect customer bills in 2023/24.

The Argus: Testing of coastal rivers for sewageTesting of coastal rivers for sewage

Southern Water ranks among the worst of all companies in the UK for 12 categories set out by Ofwat in a report for 2020/21.

It was marked as “poorer than target” for every category apart from one, its performance for unplanned outages.

The categories include customer satisfaction, water quality, mains repairs, pollution incidents and sewer collapses.

Southern Water and Thames Water are also bottom of the list for customer experience in 2021/22.

The Argus: Bathing sites in Seaford, pictured, has been impacted by sewage releasesBathing sites in Seaford, pictured, has been impacted by sewage releases

A Southern Water spokeswoman said: “As laid out in our annual report, we recognise that Southern Water has not always met expectations in recent years but are now in a position to deliver significant change for our customers and the environment.

“This includes investing £2 billion (about £1,000 per household) between 2020-25, more than our regulatory allowance, to significantly improve our performance.

“We are on track to reduce pollutions by 40 per cent compared with 2021 with much still to be done to maintain this to the end of the year, and we are also industry leading in self-reporting.

"We know leakage is a priority for the water industry, and this is no different for Southern Water. Our network is big and complex, involving 13,870km of water mains, and this brings many challenges when it comes to finding and fixing leaks.

The Argus: Southern Water CEO Lawrence Gosden was appointed on July 1 this year. Picture from Southern WaterSouthern Water CEO Lawrence Gosden was appointed on July 1 this year. Picture from Southern Water (Image: Southern Water)

"We fixed 22,000 leaks across our region last year and we’re making huge investments and changes to the way we tackle this and have a target to reduce leakage by 15 per cent by 2025, 40 per cent by 2040 and 50 per cent by 2050.

"Our teams are working seven days a week to find and fix leaks. We have increased the size of our leakage team to help us respond to leaks quickly and we are investing more in new technology to find and fix leaks on our network"

Environment Agency figures on Southern Water pollution shows it recorded 381 minor incidents in 2021, compared with 423 in 2019.

It also had three serious incidents in 2021, those that have a “persistent impact on the environment, people or property” - compared with none in 2020 and three the year before.

The Argus: West Beach in Lancing which has seen persistent pipe burstsWest Beach in Lancing which has seen persistent pipe bursts

It has self-reported 90 per cent of its leaks.

Southern Water has come under fire for continuous leaks in the same section of pipes in the West Beach area of Lancing.

People have also criticised the water provider’s move to change how alerts display in its Beachbuoy app as a “cynical attempt” to attract less negative publicity.

Last year, Southern Water was fined £90 million by the government after dumping billions of litres of raw sewage into the sea. The company admitted 6,971 illegal spills between 2010 to 2015.

South East Water has to pay £3.2 million to its customers.