Anglian Water ad banned for leaving out detail on sewage release

The firm said it did not intend to mislead consumers (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)
The firm said it did not intend to mislead consumers (Nicholas T Ansell/PA)

An ad for Anglian Water promoting its building of wetlands to protect the environment has been banned for failing to mention the firm’s history of releasing sewage into rivers.

The TV and video on demand ad, seen in September and October, featured a girl saying: “Right now Anglian Water is creating wetlands to clean water using nature and make homes for wildlife.

“By building a really long pipe to bring water to places that need it most, while protecting nature too. And huge tanks to collect rain, so there’s less chance of floods in the future.

“In fact, everything they do today is for tomorrow.”

The ad showed various scenes of a wetland, fields and wildlife, tanks collecting rainwater, a wind turbine, and an Anglian Water van with text on the side that reads “100% Electric 0% Emissions”.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received nine complaints that the ads were misleading because they omitted significant information about Anglian Water’s history of releasing sewage into the environment.

Anglian Water said it did not believe that the ad was misleading, and claimed the firm had “an overwhelmingly positive impact on the environment”.

It did not “actively dump sewage into rivers and seas”, but discharged “highly diluted sewage” into the environment when exceptional storms occurred which could overwhelm the network, to avoid homes flooding.

It said this had a “negligible environmental impact on the receiving watercourse and was permitted by the Environmental Agency”.

The ASA said the complainants were concerned because they understood that Anglian Water had a history of dumping sewage into rivers and the sea, had killed fish and wildlife as a result, and had been fined because of those actions.

It noted that incidents which occurred within firms’ permits to discharge storm sewage into rivers or seas during periods of heavy or prolonged rainfall to prevent backing up into homes and streets were not reported and recorded as pollution incidents.

However, in 2021 – the most recent year for which data was available – Anglian Water had an overall Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) rating of two stars out of a possible four, which meant that the “company requires improvement”.

The EPA report stated that Anglian performed below target for the number of sewerage pollution incidents and for their compliance with their discharge permit.

Their performance was significantly below target for the number of serious pollution incidents.

Furthermore, Anglian Water had been subject to enforcement action against them on multiple occasions in recent years for Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) offences.

The ASA said: “We accepted that Anglian Water were carrying out a number of activities that could have a positive impact on the environment.

“However, because they also carried out activities that caused harm to the environment, which contradicted the overall impression of the ad, we considered that was material information which should have been made clear in the ads.

“We concluded that the ads omitted material information and were therefore misleading.”

An Anglian Water spokeswoman said: “We care deeply about helping look after our region and apologise that we unintentionally misled customers with this advertisement. We fully accept the ruling and took prompt action to remove the advert in line with the ASA’s guidance.

“We take our responsibility to protect and enhance the environment incredibly seriously and are investing almost £800 million this year to address issues related to spills, preserve water resources and protect against severe weather and flooding.”

The regulator did not uphold similar complaints about an ad from Severn Trent Water promoting its tree planting programme.

While Severn Trent was fined for sewage discharges during 2018, the firm currently had an overall EPA rating of four stars out of a possible four, which meant that they were classed as an ‘industry-leading company’.

The ASA said: “Because their overall environmental performance did not contradict the overall impression of the ad, we did not consider that their history of releasing sewage into the environment was material information that needed to be included in the ad to prevent viewers from being misled.”