Thames Water crisis explained as utility giant serving 15m people faces collapse

The federal government is scrambling to place collectively a plan to rescue Thames Water over rising fears the corporate is about to go bust.

The utility giant is struggling underneath a £14 billion debt pile it has accrued because it was privatised in 1989 and will now doubtlessly be taken into public possession if additional funding just isn’t discovered.

It follows the shock resignation of the chief government Sarah Bentley who stepped down with fast impact on Tuesday after two years within the job.

The crisis engulfing Thames Water, which serves 15 million clients in London and the south-east, comes amid renewed give attention to the trade which during the last yr has been condemned for sewage spills, a scarcity of infrastructure funding and rising payments.

The Impartial has put collectively all the things you could know in regards to the ongoing crisis.

Who owns the corporate?

The corporate is co-owned by a sequence of pension funds and sovereign wealth funds.

The most important single shareholder is the Ontario Municipal Staff Retirement System, which holds round 32 per cent of the shares. One other pension fund, the UK-based Universities Superannuation Scheme, holds one other 20 per cent.

Round 10 per cent of the shares are owned by a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi Authorities, and China’s sovereign wealth fund owns somewhat underneath 9 per cent.

Different traders embrace the British Columbia Funding Administration Company (8.7%), Hermes GPE (8.7%), Queensland Funding Company (5.4%), Aquila GP Inc (5%), and Stichting Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (2.2%).


What might the federal government do?

Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride has stated that there are “contingency plans in place for any eventuality”, an try to allay fears in regards to the firm’s imminent collapse.

If the worst does occur, the federal government might be compelled to step in as water and power firms are thought-about too essential to allow them to go bankrupt, as they supply important assets.

Both the federal government or water regulator Ofwat can apply to a courtroom to nominate a particular administrator for Thames Water, which might run the corporate, and be certain that water retains popping out of the faucets.

The administrator would additionally attempt to discover one other investor or non-public firm to purchase Thames Water and produce it out of administration.

The particular administration regime (SAR) has solely been used as soon as earlier than, when Bulb Power collapsed in late 2021. Bulb was later purchased by its former rival Octopus.

What is going to occur to water payments?

Well being minister Neil O’Brien has assured British shoppers that their water provide will proceed and payments is not going to improve.

He instructed Sky Information: “Completely nothing goes to occur by way of both their (clients’) payments or their entry to water, we have now contingency plans – like we do in all of those community utilities – to handle any tough conditions.”

Regardless of this pledge, Alex Jay, Associate and Head of Insolvency and Asset Restoration at legislation agency Stewarts, explained that there was “vital threat within the medium or long run” that payments would improve for shoppers.

He stated: “Essentially Thames Water is a loss making enterprise that’s struggling to outlive on its present enterprise mannequin.

“It’s cheap to imagine subsequently that, in some unspecified time in the future, it might want to minimize prices (if it may, in vital sufficient quantity) or improve costs – or certainly do each.”

As well as, water firms are set to push for payments to rise by not less than 40 per cent to take care of escalated prices associated to local weather change and sewage disposal. Thames Water is reportedly proposing rises of 20 per cent, based on the report in The Instances.

Thames Water: Contingency plans being drawn up for potential collapse

Might pensions be impacted?

Pension funds invested with Thames Water might doubtlessly face “vital impairment to their investments”, an professional has stated.

Alex Jay, Associate and Head of Insolvency and Asset Restoration at legislation agency Stewarts, stated: “Thames Water has not simply declared a loss within the newest monetary yr; it’s reported to be verging on insolvency and the necessity for a authorities bailout.

“If that’s right then it appears apparent that the worth of the pension funds’ investments will even be in danger.”

This might have a knock-on influence for shoppers as if the investments in your pension fund drop, the general worth of your pension pot might be lowered.

This might pile additional distress on these seeking to retire this yr as they’ve been hit by robust financial circumstances and the blowback from Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-budget in September 2022.

Joanna Ford, restructuring & insolvency associate at Cripps, added that if Thames Water was made bancrupt “it’s primarily the shareholders that lose out, as they sit on the backside of the pile with regards to compensation.”

She added: “Secured financial institution lending can be repaid first, earlier than different collectors such as HMRC, staff, and commerce collectors. Bancrupt implies that an organization doesn’t find the money for to repay all its collectors, and so if Thames Water was to enter administration then not all collectors can be repaid in full, and they also would additionally lose out to some extent – how a lot will rely upon what there’s left within the pot to go spherical.”

What has the water regulator Ofwat stated?

In a press release on Thursday, the regulator stated: “Over the past day or so, there was a number of commentary about monetary resilience within the water sector with appreciable give attention to Thames Water particularly.

“We’ve been clear that Thames Water has vital points to handle – their environmental report and leakage efficiency, for instance, are poor. Alongside the turnaround of their operational efficiency, they should enhance their monetary resilience too.

“However that’s all within the context of an organization that has robust liquidity – it not too long ago obtained a further £500 million from shareholders and has £4.4bn of money and dedicated funding.

“Total, the sector is continuous to draw worldwide capital and is very engaging to long run traders such as pension funds. Certainly, there was a further fairness injection of round £2bn since 2020, with firms performing to strengthen their monetary place.

“Ofwat will proceed to maintain firms’ monetary resilience underneath shut scrutiny and work with firms to make sure they take motion to make sure that they’ve the monetary backing to ship for purchasers and the atmosphere.”

The water regulator has stated it has been clear about Thames Water’s ‘vital points’ (Andrew Matthews/PA)

(PA Archive)

Are another water firms in bother?

In brief, sure. In December Ofwat highlighted 5 water suppliers whose monetary resilience it was most frightened about.

As effectively as Thames Water, it highlighted Portsmouth Water, Yorkshire Water, Southern Water and SES Water as its “highest precedence for engagement”.

Susannah Streeter, head of cash and markets for Hargreaves Lansdown, stated: “Huge questions are actually being raised in regards to the potential precariousness of different water corporations.

“Ofwat had been monitoring Southern Water and Yorkshire Water, as effectively as Thames Water, given its issues over their monetary resilience.

“In its 2022 annual report, it additionally flagged worries about Northumbrian Water and Portsmouth Water for having fallen far in need of expectations when it got here to the extent of dividends paid given their relative monetary resilience.

“It’s no surprise waves of fear are actually surrounding extra corporations who’ve been caught uptide, as the period of low cost cash has been dammed and their debt funds have hurtled upwards.”

Further reporting by companies

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