Boycott Thames Water. What, why, and how to take direct action from your armchair

2 April 2024

Following the publication of our open letter to Rishi Sunak, we're pleased to host this guest blog from one of the signatories, Boycott Thames Water.

Greed, stupidity, unfairness, and failure have characterised privatisation of so many of our social assets. Water must be among the most outrageous examples. Even in the US, a country synonymous with rampant capitalism, 9 out of 10 people receive their water from a publicly owned utility, and the trend is towards greater public ownership. An important way to press for change here is to use our power as consumers.

What?

The Boycott Thames Water campaign was formed at the end of 2023. It is a loosely organised coalition of users in the Thames Water area, the UK’s largest water company with some 16 million customers.

We are united simply by our refusal to pay the wastewater element of our bills. The remit is deliberately limited to make the campaign as attractive to as many people as possible, wherever they are on the party political spectrum.

Boycott Thames Water has taken its lead from the national Boycott Water Bills Campaign and has a page on their website. The coastal areas, where swimmers have been literally sickened by the sewage discharged into our seas, were in the vanguard of the campaign.

Why?

Thames Water was privatised in 1989. It has failed over 35 years to adequately address the problems facing the water industry. This includes replacing old pipes and tackling massive wastage through leaks.

The specific focus of our campaign is failure to comply with the statutory obligation not to discharge untreated sewage into our waterways. We call this ‘fly-tipping,’ and we call them Thames Waster.’

Study any water bill and you will see that around half the charge is for safely removing wastewater. We argue that no one should have to pay for a service they don’t receive.

Thames Water has possibly the worst record of all the privatised water companies. They have been fined millions of pounds for their environmental crimes. This has had little impact – it is factored into their business model. The fines aren’t paid by shareholders or directors. It is the customers who pick up the tab in their bills. Thames have signalled their intention to seek a 40% increase in charges this year.

We raise awareness by pointing out:

  • Trashing our environment is not acceptable.
  • Billions of pounds have gone to shareholders which would have been better spent fixing the problems.
  • There is no choice over which company provides vital water services. No matter how badly they perform, we cannot change to another one.

Our campaign makes it obvious to customers that privatisation has failed, and that social ownership is the answer.

How?

The group has a dedicated WhatsApp group and email address. Our message is being targeted to community and campaigning groups and venues using flyers and word of mouth. Further to our inclusion on the Boycott Water Bills website, we are delighted to now be listed on We Own It.

As the boycott grows, so does the expertise of boycotters. Every water company has a different approach, and experiences vary within each company. We hold regular Zoom workshops to discuss tactics and strategy and have produced tips and guidance for anyone thinking of joining the boycott movement.

Where we are at now

It is still early days for our campaign. But the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

The campaign is framed in a way that recognises that Thames Water customers in a wide range of situations can take action, including those who don’t feel up to withholding payment. Simply delaying payment is a worthwhile option. And anyone can write a complaint or take the issues up with their candidates in this election year.

The bigger picture is that Thames Water is in debt to the tune of around £18 billion and appears to be on the verge of bankruptcy. It has borrowed billions which it has used in part to pay dividends and bloated remuneration packages. The cost of servicing its debts adds to the crisis.

We believe boycotting can play an important part in highlighting the failure of privatisation and the ineffectiveness of the regulatory regime, and pushing the next Government into taking water back under social control where it belongs, with no bail out or recompense to the buccaneers who have played fast and loose with this precious asset.

We hope in future blogs here to highlight in more detail some of the ways privatised water companies have acted greedily and recklessly to the detriment of people and the environment.

Find out more

Join the Boycott Thames Water WhatsApp group using this link:

Or email us at thameswaterboycott@email.com

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Comments

Ida Aumeerally replied on Permalink

I wholly agree and want to sign the boycott of Water Thames. Thanks

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