Sewage scandal water group to pay shareholders £320million | City & Business | Finance

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United Utilities plans to pay its shareholders £320million in dividends, just days after the revelation that it pumped millions of litres of raw sewage into Lake Windermere.

A spokesman defended the payouts and said that they were necessary to attract the investment it needs to update its infrastructure and prevent future spills.

United’s annual results show that even though its pre-tax profits dropped more than a third to £170million, it will pay dividends of 49.8p per share to its investors for its 2024 financial year. That is 9.4% higher than last year and represents a £320million payday for its shareholders.

Earlier this week, United was engulfed in a storm after it emerged that it had pumped sewage into the iconic lake in February. It blamed a telecoms fault which caused its main pumps to stop and for emergency pumps discharging untreated sewage into Windermere, a Unesco World Heritage site, for 10 hours.

A United spokesman said that between 2025 and 2030, the utilities group plans to spend over £13billion infrastructure improvements to reduce leaks, pollution, service interruptions, incidents of sewers flooding improve water quality. It plans to bring forward £400million of that spending to tackle spills at more than 150 storm overflows.

However, he claimed that this can only happen if it pays out dividends to its shareholders: “We will only be able to deliver that plan if investors, including big pension schemes, provide funding. If we don’t offer investors a fair rate of return through the dividend, they will take their money elsewhere.”

Between 2025 and 2030, United plans to increase consumer water bills by around £22 a year. It claims that although it is investing a record £13billion in infrastructure upgrades, its price hike is one of the lowest increases in England. Chief executive Louise Beardmore said that it spend £525million on helping hard pressed households.

United’s annual results also show that last year it spent £37.6million on fixing a sewage leak on at its Fleetwood treatment works, which resulted in people in Blackpool being banned from swimming along the Fylde coastline.

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