Misconnection in Old Roar Gill catchment area - actions taken by Southern Water

Chris Hurrell made this Environmental Information Regulations request to Southern Water Services Limited
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The request was partially successful.

Dear Southern Water Services Limited,

There have been recent pollution incidents in the Gill and park watercourses reported since May 2023. These incidents are harmful to bothe the environment and wildlife. Environment Agency water quality records suggest this is not a one off incident and that pollution levels have been high in the park watercourses since the records started in 2010.

Southern Water have stated that "We completely understand the frustration and concern about the issues in Hastings with legacy infrastructure which requires continued investment.
One of the biggest challenges is the number of what we call ‘misconnections’ where builders have plumbed homes into surface water drains instead of sewers, which means that when someone with a misconnection in their home flushes their loo the waste isn’t going to the sewers to be treated, it is going into storm drains and straight into the environment. Where we are finding these, the council is then ensuring these are put right.
Our team on the ground are working really hard to fix this. In Hastings, we have to date discovered 92 misconnected properties – around 2500 separate facilities."

Please provide the following information under EIR:

1. The number of misconnections discovered by Southern water since May 2023 within the catchment area of the incidents.
2. The number of misconnections reported to HBC by Southern Water since May 2023 within the catchment area of the incidents.
3. All correspondence (in any format) and documents held on these reported misconnections.
4. Details of the actions taken by Southern Water to correct the misconnections found since May 2023. Details should include emails, documents and any other information held.
5. The number of misconnections discovered by Southern Water in the period Jan 2014 to May 2023 within the catchment area of the park watercourses.
6. The number of misconnections reported to HBC by Southern Water in the period Jan 2014 to May 2023 within the catchment area of the park watercourses.
7. All correspondence (in any format) and documents held on these reported misconnections.
8. Details of the actions taken by Southern Water to correct the misconnections found in the period Jan 2014 to May 2023. Details should include emails, documents and any other information held.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Hurrell

EIR - Environmental Information Regulations, Southern Water Services Limited

Dear Mr Hurrell

Thank you for your request. It will be dealt with under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

As required by the regulations, we aim to answer your request as soon as possible and within 20 working days from the date we received it. If for any reason we are unable to meet this deadline, we will keep you fully informed of the reasons for this.

Kind regards

EIR Officer

southernwater.co.uk

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EIR - Environmental Information Regulations, Southern Water Services Limited

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Hurrell

In response to your request, please see the attached letter.

Kind regards

EIR Officer

southernwater.co.uk

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Dear Southern Water Services Limited,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts EIR reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Southern Water Services Limited's handling of my EIRrequest 'Misconnection in Old Roar Gill catchment area - actions taken by Southern Water'.

Please review the following issues:

Question 4 was refused under regulation 13 "Personal Data".
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"Details of the actions taken by Southern Water to correct the misconnections found since
May 2023. Details should include emails, documents and any other information held. "

Not all the information requested is personal data and subject to regulation 13. Such data should be released. Please provude the information requested which is not personal data. Redact personal data as necessary.

Question 5 requires clarification.
-------------------------------------------
"5. The number of misconnections discovered by Southern Water in the period Jan 2014 to
May 2023 within the catchment area of the park watercourses."

Information has been provided since 2019 stating thet there were 55 misconnections in the Hastings area. My request was for misconnections in the Old Roar Gill catchment area. Please confirm that the 55 misconnections are across all of Hastings and not just the Old Roar Giull catchment area. Please explain why data does not exist prior to 2019.

Question 6 answer conflicts with information provided by Hastings Borough Council
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"6. The number of misconnections reported to HBC by Southern Water in the period Jan 2014
to May 2023 within the catchment area of the park watercourses"

Your response states no misconnections have been escalated to HBC. HBC have provided me under EIR documents that state that misconnections have been reported and then been subject to enforcement action by HBC. Please clarify.

Question 7 answer conflicts with information provided by Hastings Borough Council
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"7. All correspondence (in any format) and documents held on these reported misconnections. "

Your response states no misconnections have been escalated to HBC. HBC have provided me under EIR documents that state that misconnections have been reported and then been subject to enforcement action by HBC. Please clarify.

Question 8 is not answered. Clarification required
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"8. Details of the actions taken by Southern Water to correct the misconnections found in the
period Jan 2014 to May 2023. Details should include emails, documents and any other information
held"

Your response describes the process but does not address my question. Is any data held? HBC have supplied documents which appear to be from Southern Water concerning misconnections and the actions taken. Please clarify are you saying you hold no information or are you refusing to release it?

The EIR request to HBC can be seen at https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/m...

A full history of my EIR request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/m...

Yours faithfully,

Chris Hurrell

Churchill, Robin, Southern Water Services Limited

6 Attachments

Dear Mr Hurrell
 
RE REQUEST FOR AN INTERNAL REVIEW
 
I write further to your email of 3 September 2023 timed at 07:56 below.
 
I am the Head of Legal Services at Southern Water and I deal with requests
for Internal Reviews of requests made pursuant to the Environmental
Information Regulations 2004 (EIR 2004).  I note you have made a request
for an Internal Review of the decision made by Southern Water dated 23
August 2023 following your request made under the Environmental
Information Regulations 2004 received on 26 July 2023.
 
BACKGROUND
In your original request you asked for disclosure of the following:
 
There have been recent pollution incidents in the Gill and park
watercourses reported since May 2023. These incidents are harmful to both
the environment and wildlife. Environment Agency water quality records
suggest this is not a one off incident and that pollution levels have been
high in the park watercourses since the records started in 2010.
 
Southern Water have stated that "We completely understand the frustration
and concern about the issues in Hastings with legacy infrastructure which
requires continued investment. One of the biggest challenges is the number
of what we call ‘misconnections’ where builders have plumbed homes into
surface water drains instead of sewers, which means that when someone with
a misconnection in their home flushes their loo the waste isn’t going to
the sewers to be treated, it is going into storm drains and straight into
the environment. Where we are finding these, the council is then ensuring
these are put right. Our team on the ground are working really hard to fix
this. In Hastings, we have to date discovered 92 misconnected properties –
around 2500 separate facilities."
 
Please provide the following information under EIR:
 
1. The number of misconnections discovered by Southern water since May
2023 within the catchment area of the incidents.
2. The number of misconnections reported to HBC by Southern Water since
May 2023 within the catchment area of the incidents.
3. All correspondence (in any format) and documents held on these reported
misconnections.
4. Details of the actions taken by Southern Water to correct the
misconnections found since May 2023. Details should include emails,
documents and any other information held.
5. The number of misconnections discovered by Southern Water in the period
Jan 2014 to May 2023 within the catchment area of the park watercourses.
6. The number of misconnections reported to HBC by Southern Water in the
period Jan 2014 to May 2023 within the catchment area of the park
watercourses.
7. All correspondence (in any format) and documents held on these reported
misconnections.
8. Details of the actions taken by Southern Water to correct the
misconnections found in the period Jan 2014 to May 2023. Details should
include emails, documents and any other information held.
 
Southern Water responded to your request as follows -
 
In response to question 1, Southern Water answered this in full and you
have not raised any issues.
 
In response to question 2, Southern Water answered this in full and you
have not raised any issues.
 
In response to question 3, Southern Water answered this in full and you
have not raised any issues. 
 
In response to questions 4 to 8 Southern Water relied on various
exceptions under the EIR 2004 and it is these questions only that you have
challenged by way of Internal Review.  My review has therefore focussed on
these questions.
 
 
 
THE INTERNAL REVIEW
 
As has been explained to you previously, it is a common misconception that
applicants for environmental information  are entitled to receive all of
the information they ask for and the  EIR 2004 set out a number of
instances where it is entirely proper and legitimate to withhold
information  pursuant to those Regulations. I have explained below how
those exceptions apply to the requests you have made, which I hope you
will find helpful.
 
 
Question 4.
In response to question 4, Southern Water explained that it do not have to
provide you information where an exception applies and that the
information you sought includes personal data of which you are not the
data subject.  Southern Water explained that this information is therefore
excluded under regulation 13 of the EIR 2004 – personal data - and would
not be providing you with this information.  You have challenged Southern
Waters response on this.
 
I note that in Southern Waters original response it explained that it had
engaged with the homeowners as regards their misconnections identified and
subsequently rectified. I trust that you appreciate that a misconnection
is, typically, an inappropriate connection by a private property
owner/user into a drainage system of some type other than an appropriate
public sewer (i.e. a system over which Southern Water has no
responsibility or obligation).
 
In your request you have asked for emails, documents and any other
information held relating to these private homeowners misconnections.  To
explain, the correspondence you have requested comprises correspondence
with private homeowners regarding their misconnections.  This will
comprise personal data, namely name and address data and information about
their personal properties, and consequently regulation 13 of EIR 2014
provides an exception of providing personal data if providing it would be
contrary to the UK General Data Protection Regulations (the UK GDPR) or
the Data Protection Act 2018 (the DPA 2018).  
 
In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the original response was
correct not to provide you with this protected correspondence with private
homeowners, and I am also satisfied that the public interest in
withholding this correspondence outweighs any public interest arguments in
disclosing this correspondence to you.  Southern Waters original response
confirmed that it has in all cases engaged with the relevant private
homeowners and I do not consider that there are public interest arguments
which persuade me that this correspondence – which includes personal data
- should be disclosed to you.
 
Question 5
In response to question 5, Southern Water explained that it does not hold
any data prior to 2019 and it explained to you that this is when Southern
Waters dedicated Misconnection Team was established.  Southern Water has
provided data in respect of 2019 to date.  You have challenged Southern
Waters response and asked for an explanation of why data does not exist
prior to 2019. 
 
You were provided with this explanation in Southern Waters original
response as follows: “Southern Water can provide you with information 2019
when our dedicated Misconnection Team was established”.
 
I can confirm that as part of my review I have looked into this and can
confirm that the dedicated Misconnections Team was established in 2019. 
Prior to this, Southern Water did not hold readily accessible information
about misconnections.  To identify any misconnections prior to this data
would involve manually checking through thousands of Southern Water work
orders to identify whether any of them involved a misconnection.  This
task would require the exercise of skill and judgment and prior to 2019
this information cannot be simply retrieved as there is no one “job code”
that relates to misconnections so Southern Water cannot filter the search
on this basis.  I also understand that to complete this task would involve
a significant amount of time and resources and would comprise a
significant cost and diversion of resources from Southern Water’s other
work. 
 
I am therefore not satisfied that it can be said that Southern Water
“holds” this data prior to 2019.  Even if it were to be considered that
this information is “held” by Southern Water, it would not be justified
for Southern Water to carry out a search of voluminous work orders on the
basis that it is likely to take several weeks to complete this task.  This
exceeds the general guide provided by the Information Commissioner’s
Office (ICO) of 18 hours, over which time organisations are not required
to deal with it.  Southern Water therefore seeks to rely on the exception
under regulation 12(4)(b) of the EIR 2004 on the basis that to manually
search through the work orders prior to 2019 would involve an amount of
time and resource that is manifestly unreasonably. 
 
You have also asked for clarification regarding the 55 confirmed
misconnections in Southern Waters original response.  I have reviewed the
information provided and can confirm that the 55 confirmed misconnections
since 2019 have occurred in TN34 and TN35 postcodes which includes
Hastings.
 
To conclude, I am satisfied that Southern Waters original response to your
question 5 was satisfactory.
 
Questions 6 and 7
You asked Southern Water about the number of misconnections reported to
Hastings Borough Council by Southern Water between January 2014 and May
2023 and for copies of all correspondence.
 
In Southern Waters original response it confirmed that since 2019 no
misconnections have been escalated to Hastings Borough Council (HBC). 
This information was provided to Southern Water EIR Officer by Southern
Waters Misconnections team.  You have challenged this on the basis that
HBC have confirmed to you by way of their response to a separate EIR
request that misconnections have been reported to HBC by Southern Water
and one has been subject to enforcement action by HBC.  I note that you
have forwarded a web link to the EIR response provide to you by HBC.  I
will provide this information to Southern Waters Misconnections team for
review and comment and will treat this as a separate EIR request. It would
be helpful if you could provide your contact details (i.e. email address)
to allow Southern Water to respond. 
 
Question 8
You asked Southern Water for details of the actions taken by Southern
Water to correct misconnections found between January 2014 to May 2023. 
 
I note that in Southern Waters original response it provided you with a
large amount of information about the process that Southern Water adopts
when it became aware of a misconnection.  You were also provided with
confirmation that there was one exception to the process described where a
property in Hastings was incorrectly connected to the surface water sewer
in the carriageway.
 
I am satisfied that Southern Water response adequately responded to your
question.  Whilst the original response might not have included the detail
you hoped for, nevertheless, I am satisfied the response satisfactorily
answered your question.  If you now wish to clarify that you wanted
specific details about each of the 55 misconnections from 2019 that we
informed you about, please can you confirm and Southern Water will treat
this as a new EIR request. However, Southern Water will need to consider
the time and resources to provide this information to you against the
exception under regulation 12(4)(b) which provides that we are not obliged
to respond where to do so would be “manifestly unreasonable” on the basis
of the time and resources it would take to collate the information.  I
cannot give any assurances on this either way as Southern Waters
Misconnection team will need to provide an estimate of the time involved
once they have received your EIR request. Again, it would be helpful if
you could provide your contact details (i.e. email address) to allow
Southern Water to respond. 
 
CONCLUSION
 
I am satisfied that in response to question 4 this comprises personal data
and Southern Water is not required to provide you with copies of
correspondence with private homeowners etc.
 
In response to question 5, I am satisfied that the Misconnections
information prior to 2019 is not “held” for the purposes of EIR 2004, and
additionally, to retrieve this information which would comprise manually
checking all of our work orders prior to 2019 would be manifestly
unreasonable in accordance with the exception under regulation 12(4)(b). 
 
In response to questions 6 and 7, as mentioned above I will provide a copy
of the EIR request from Hastings Borough Council to Southern Waters
Misconnections team for review and comment which will be dealt with as a
new EIR request.
 
In response to question 8, I am satisfied that the information provided to
you by Southern Water comprised a satisfactory response.  If however you
require detailed information about each and every of the 55
misconnections, this will be treated as a new EIR request in accordance
with the guidelines provided to the ICO regarding the time and resources
we are expected to apply to EIR requests.
 
In the circumstances, for the reasons set out above, I uphold the original
decisions as set out above. 
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office:
 
Information Commissioner's Office,
Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire
SK9 5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Robin Churchill
Head of Legal
T. 01903 27 2500
M. 07341 735706
southernwater.co.uk
 
 
 

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Dear Churchill, Robin,

Following the review I have now taken the matter to the ICO.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Hurrell

Churchill, Robin, Southern Water Services Limited

Thank you for your email. 

I am away from the office on Annual Leave until Thursday 26 October. If
you need urgent assistance, please contact [email address]

Otherwise, I will attend to your email asap upon my return. 

Thanks.

Robin

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Services Limited and the recipient.</>

EIR - Environmental Information Regulations, Southern Water Services Limited

2 Attachments

Dear Mr Hurrell

 

In response to your request, please see the attached letter.

 

Kind regards

 

EIR Officer

 

[1]southernwater.co.uk [2]sw-email-logo

 

 

This e-mail is intended solely for the person or organisation to which it
is addressed. It may contain privileged and confidential information. If
you are not the intended recipient, you are prohibited from copying,
disclosing or distributing this e-mail or its contents (as it may be
unlawful for you to do so) or taking any action in reliance on it. </>

If you receive this e-mail by mistake, please delete it then advise the
sender immediately.</>

Without prejudice to the above prohibition on unauthorised copying and
disclosure of this e-mail or its contents, it is your responsibility to
ensure that any onward transmission, opening or use of this message and
any attachments will not adversely affect your or the onward recipients'
systems or data. Please carry out such virus and other such checks as you
consider appropriate.</>

An e-mail reply to this address may be subject to monitoring for
operational reasons or lawful business practices</>

This e-mail is issued by Southern Water Services Limited, company number
2366670, registered in England and having its registered office at
Southern House, Yeoman Road, Worthing, BN13 3NX, England.</>

In sending this e-mail the sender cannot be deemed to have specified
authority and the contents of the e-mail will have no contractual effect
unless (in either case) it is otherwise agreed between Southern Water
Services Limited and the recipient.</>

References

Visible links
1. http://www.southernwater.co.uk/
2. http://www.southernwater.co.uk/

Churchill, Robin, Southern Water Services Limited

4 Attachments

Dear Mr Hurrell,

 

Further to your email below, we have received an Investigation Letter from
the ICO dated 31 January 2024 asking us to reconsider our response to your
Questions 4 and 8 in your EIR Request (reference 2033). Accordingly, we
have given the matter further consideration and respond to you as below.
We have sent a separate response to the ICO.

 

Regarding Question 4, please find attached correspondence sent to the 3
private householders regarding the 3 misconnections that were identified
post May 2023 (pdf combined letters).  Please note that we have redacted
personal data including name and address data.  As you can see this
confirms what we explained in our EIR responses that we engaged with the
homeowners, visited their properties and corresponded with them about the
resolution of their problem misconnection. As has been explained, the
obligation to take action to correct a misconnection of this type rests
with the property owner and not with Southern Water.

 

We communicate with Hastings Borough Council via regular 6 weekly meetings
and the attached progress report is sent in advance of the session and
discussed with the EHO team.  Please find enclosed a spreadsheet which
comprises the progress report, again with personal data redacted (pdf HBC
July 2023).

 

Also attached are 2 x ‘TN342’ slides, again, redacted to remove personal
data including name and address data. 

 

We trust that this now satisfied this part of your referral to the ICO.

 

Regarding Question 8, in the Internal review dated 2 October 2023 I asked
you to clarify whether you were in fact asking for specific details about
each of the 55 misconnections we confirmed had been identified prior to
May 2023 (highlighted passage below).  I explained that if you required
details of each of the 55 misconnections, you were to confirm that to
Southern Water and we would then need to consider the time and resources
to provide this information to you with reference to the exception under
regulation 12(4)(b).  However as you know, you did not confirm the
position to us, but instead, as stated in your email of 26 October 2023
below, you referred Question 8 (and Question 4) to the ICO. I have
therefore notified the ICO that you have been asked again whether you
require these details. Once you have done so, we will then review the
information we have, and whether retrieving it and collating does engage
regulation 12(4)(b) and our application of this.  We take the view that
this is a reasonable course of action as it might be the case that on
receipt of the above and attached information in response to Question 4,
that you no longer consider receiving this information necessary, as I
would expect any information in respect of the 55 misconnections to be
very similar.  You do, of course, also have our response on the same 55
misconnections in our response to EIR request reference 2153 dated 30
October 2023.

 

I confirm that I will now update the ICO and will provide the ICO with a
copy of this correspondence.

 

Kind regards

 

Robin Churchill

Head of Legal

 

 

T. 01903 27 2500

M. 07341 735706

southernwater.co.uk

 

 

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