United Utilities

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United Utilities Group plc
TypePublic limited company
FTSE 100 Component
IndustryWater industry
Founded1995; 28 years ago (1995)
HeadquartersWarrington, England, UK
Area served
North West England
Key people
Production output
  • 2.0 Gl/day (drinking)
  • 2.0 Gl/day (recycled)
RevenueIncrease £1,862.7 million (2022)[1]
Increase £610.0 million (2022)[1]
Increase £(56.8)  million (2022)[1]

United Utilities Group plc (UU), the United Kingdom's largest listed water company, was founded in 1995 as a result of the merger of North West Water and NORWEB.[2] The group manages the regulated water and waste water network in North West England, which includes Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Merseyside, most of Cheshire and a small area of Derbyshire, which have a combined population of more than seven million.[3][4]

The United Utilities Group was the electricity distribution network operator for the North West until 2010, when its electricity subsidiary was sold to Electricity North West. United Utilities' headquarters are in Warrington, England, and the company has more than 5,000 direct employees.[5] Its shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange and it is a constituent the FTSE 100 Index.[6]

North West England is the wettest region in England,[7] and water hardness across the region is soft to very soft.[8]


In 1989 the North West Water Authority, which was responsible for the provision of water to the North West of England, was privatised and became North West Water Group plc.[9] In 1995, the company acquired NORWEB plc, the then regional electricity distributor and supplier, and on 1 April 1996 changed its name to United Utilities plc.[9]

In January 1998, United Utilities listed on the New York Stock Exchange,[10] but delisted its shares in May 2007.[11] In 2000, the North West Water and NORWEB branding was phased out in favour of United Utilities, the rebranding was completed by the end of 2001. The company sold some of the businesses it had acquired, its telecoms business, Your Communications was sold in February 2006,[12] and Vertex in March 2007.[13][14]

In December 2007, United Utilities sold its electricity distribution network assets to North West Electricity Networks (Jersey) Limited, a joint venture between funds run by Colonial First State and JPMorgan Chase. Electricity North West became the licensed Distribution Network Operator for the north west of England as a result.[15]

United Utilities operated and maintained the regional electricity network on behalf of Electricity North West until 2010, when Electricity North West bought the electricity network operations and maintenance arm from United Utilities to establish one Group.[16][17]

In October 2011, United Utilities was selected as the preferred bidder by Severn Trent Water to purchase the Lake Vyrnwy estate for £11 million.[18] United Utilities later withdrew from the bidding process.[19] In February 2012, United Utilities proposed a national water pipeline linking water sources in Manchester to London.[20] In April 2016, United Utilities received an 18-year loan of £500m from The European Investment Bank to support investment across the North West.[21]

In May 2016, the Competition & Markets Authority granted United Utilities and Severn Trent Water approval to create a new joint venture company in preparation for the water market deregulation. In June 2016, United Utilities and Severn Trent Water formed Water Plus, in readiness to provide the retail services for their non-household customers.[22]

In May 2019, the company announced the appointment of Sir David Higgins as a non-executive director and to succeed Dr John McAdam as chairman.[23]


United Utilities' wastewater treatment plant for Preston, Lancashire

United Utilities currently supplies water to a population of 7.3 million people across the North West.[24]

The company also manages 78,000 kilometres of wastewater pipes which take sewage from 7.3 million people for treatment at nearly 600 wastewater treatment works. It also operates 37 renewable energy facilities.[25]


A sign with the former North West Water branding.
Haweswater Reservoir in Cumbria, constructed by the Manchester Corporation in 1929.

United Utilities owns some 166 water supply reservoirs,[25] various river and stream intakes, as well as lake abstractions and numerous groundwater sources, to supply the region.[26] Some reservoirs operated by the company are outside the North West such as the Longdendale Chain in Derbyshire, which were constructed by the Manchester Corporation in the 19th century, and remain networked to the North West's water supply. The principal reservoirs are as follows:[25]

Service problems[edit]

Watermain breaks[edit]

In May 2010, a burst water main cut 15,000 customers in Moreton, Leasowe and Wallasey off water for 3 days.[30] In November 2019, a burst pipe in a local treatment works disrupted water supply in the CH 41/42/43/63 areas and bottled water supply points were set up.[31]

Water and land contamination[edit]

On 7 August 2015, cryptosporidium, a water-borne parasite that can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, had been detected in the water supply to Blackpool, Chorley, Fylde, Preston, South Ribble and Wyre[32] affecting more than 300,000 customers.[33][34] No cases of cryptosporidiosis were reported and by introducing of ultra-violet treatment units "boil water" notices could be lifted in some areas. Initial investigations by United Utilities and the Drinking Water Inspectorate had not identified the cause.[35] Later the root cause was identified as run-off water from agricultural land following severe rainfall.[36]

On 6 September 2015, the water supply was declared free from contamination, and restrictions were lifted.[37] United Utilities was subsequently fined £300,000 at Preston Crown Court on 10 October 2017 for supplying water unfit for human consumption, with an additional £150,000 costs. It paid around £18 million in compensation to its customers.[38] United Utilities held a number of seminars following this event to outline steps it had taken following the incident and share lessons with other water companies.[39]

In 2023, it was reported that an area of council land in Stockport that had been earmarked for development into amenity woodland had been so contaminated by sewage discharge that it was unsafe to proceed and the plans had to be dropped.[40] The same report noted that United Utilities were the worst-polluting water company in the UK in 2022, with "10 of the country’s 20 pipes that spilled the most sewage in 2022 [being] owned by United Utilities", and that they had discharged raw sewage into the River Ellen in Cumbria for almost 7,000 hours that year.[40] The Environment Agency stated in 2023 that United Utilities released raw sewage into rivers for over 425,491 hours in 2022, and that England's largest lake, Windermere in the Lake District, received sewage from storm overflows for 246 days that year.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Annual Report 2022" (PDF). United Utilities. Retrieved 15 February 2023.
  2. ^ "United Utilities". CompaniesHistory.com - The largest companies and brands in the world. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  3. ^ "Am I in the United Utilities water area?". United Utilities. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  4. ^ "United Utilities Annual Report 2020 info on supply area". United Utilities. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  5. ^ "United Utilities Annual Report 2020 regional impact". United Utilities. Retrieved 10 August 2020.
  6. ^ "FTSE 100 Factsheet". FTSE Russell. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  7. ^ "Why a hosepipe ban in England's wettest region?". BBC News. 25 June 2010. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  8. ^ "Water hardness". www.unitedutilities.com. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  9. ^ a b "United Utilities - Share price history". www.unitedutilities.com. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  10. ^ "United Utilities shares launch". The Independent. 30 January 1998. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  11. ^ "United Utilities and ICI drop New York listings". The Guardian. 30 May 2007. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  12. ^ "Thus pays £59m for United Utilities telecom arm". The Independent. 2 February 2006. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  13. ^ Richard Wray (2 June 2005). "United Utilities to sell telecoms arm". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  14. ^ "United Utilities sells outsourcing arm Vertex". Reuters. 15 January 2007. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  15. ^ Mark Milner (24 November 2007). "United Utilities sells its power supply network". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  16. ^ Electricity Northwest buys network operations arm from United Utilities Archived 5 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine Utility Week, 28 June 2010
  17. ^ "United Utilities disposes of electricity maintenance and repair arm". Liverpool Post. 29 June 2010. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  18. ^ "'Unanswered question' over Lake Vyrnwy estate sale". BBC News. 21 October 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  19. ^ "Firm pulls out of deal to buy Lake Vyrnwy farmland". www.shropshirestar.com. 22 June 2013. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  20. ^ "UU in rail pipe plan to ease north-south water divide". Manchester Evening News. 27 February 2012. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  21. ^ Begum, Shelina (14 April 2016). "United Utilities receives £500m European Investment Bank funding". men. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  22. ^ "Severn Trent and United Utilities win approval for joint venture". The Daily Telegraph. 3 May 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  23. ^ "Chairman designate appointed at United Utilities". Insider Media. 13 May 2019. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  24. ^ "Our region - United Utilities Group PLC Annual Report 2019". unitedutilities.annualreport2020.com. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  25. ^ a b c "What we do - United Utilities Group PLC Annual Report 2019". unitedutilities.annualreport2020.com. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  26. ^ "Water Resources Management Plan" (PDF). United Utilities. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  27. ^ "Woodhead Reservoir". United Utilities. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  28. ^ "Bottoms Reservoir". United Utilities. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  29. ^ "Rivington Reservoirs (main scheme)". Engineering Timelines. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
  30. ^ "Water supply problems resolved". BBC. 30 May 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2019."Water supply problems resolved". BBC. 30 May 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2019.
  31. ^ Wirral view, Wirral Council (3 November 2019). "DISRUPTION TO WATER SUPPLY". Retrieved 3 November 2019.
  32. ^ "Lancashire homes forced to boil water due to cryptosporidium bug", BBC News, 7 August 2015, accessed 28 August 2015
  33. ^ "Lancashire water parasite alert enters fourth week", BBC News, 27 August 2015, accessed 28 August 2015
  34. ^ "Petition for parliamentary inquiry into Lancashire water bug". BBC News. 25 August 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  35. ^ "Utility Week – United Utilities fully lifts boil water notice". Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  36. ^ "United Utilities: cryptosporidium incident due to run-off water from agricultural land". www.waterbriefing.org. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  37. ^ "Compensation - frequently asked questions". Retrieved 27 March 2016.
  38. ^ "United Utilities fined £300,000 after water contamination scandal". The Telegraph. 10 October 2017. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  39. ^ "Franklaw: lessons learn" (PDF). United Utilities. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  40. ^ a b Horton, Helena (21 April 2023). "Sewage-soaked field stops creation of new woodland in Greater Manchester". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  41. ^ Badshah, Nadeem (29 May 2023). "Steve Coogan, Paul Whitehouse and Lee Mack join Windermere pollution protest". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 May 2023.

External links[edit]