UNITED Utilities accepts it is facing a colossal compensation bill for the first cryptosporidium contamination of drinking water in the North West this century.
But the company has reassured consumers the payouts – estimated already at £15m and mounting – will not be offset by a rise in water bills.
“Bills will not increase to cover the cost of compensation,” insisted a spokesman.
“This cost will be borne by the company.”
With more than 300,000 households and businesses hit by the scare, now into its third week, United Utilities has declined to put a figure on how much the crypto invasion will amount to.
But in a recent case in Bolton, where consumers had to boil their drinking water for five days after supply problems, the company paid out £15 per house to cover the cost.
With the inconvenience to customers in Preston, South Ribble, Chorley, the Fylde Coast and villages like Samlesbury, Mellor and Mellor Brook at least three times that already, claims could amount to at least £45 a household, or £13.5m in total.
With businesses set to lodge much higher demands for compensation after providing bottled water to all employees during the scare – BAE Systems is thought to have spent more than £100,000 already on keeping its 10,000-strong workforce in Lancashire hydrated – the bill is estimated to be rising by £1m a day.
“We will be compensating all homes and businesses who have been affected by the boil water advice notice,” United Utilities assured customers.
“We are continuing to focus on returning water supplies to normal as quickly as possible. We will then be contacting customers who have been affected to explain what we intend to do by way of compensation, as soon as possible.
“We will look at businesses who have been significantly affected on a case-by-case basis.”
Claims for compensation will not just involve the cost of providing bottled water. One four-star hotel near Preston has revealed it has been hit by cancellations from guests worried about staying in an area affected by the crypto bug.
Swimming pools have been shut down on health and safety grounds because the parasite is not killed off by chlorination.
Hospitals in Preston, Chorley and Blackpool have been on heightened infection alert with lorryloads of bottled water being delivered several times a day for both drinking and cleaning.
A microbiologist from Lancaster University, Dr Derek Gatherer, insisted the length of time being taken to eradicate the crypto bug from the system served by the Franklaw Water Treatment Plant near Garstang was “not that surprising”.
“In the light of previous outbreaks around the country it (the alert) can be in place for a while,” he said.
For all our previous coverage on the water contamination situation in Lancashire visit the links below: