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Water firm to pay shareholders £300m despite anger over leaks and pollution

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The decision by United Utilities to hand more than £300m to shareholders has sparked fresh anger over water companies’ multimillion-pound payouts, at a time when the industry is under pressure to spend more on tackling leaks and stopping sewage pollution.The company, which supplies more than 3m homes and 200,000 businesses across the north-west of England, from Carlisle to Crewe, had the unenviable title of England’s most polluting water company last year, according to Environment Agency data.United Utilities’ announcement came just a day after Severn Trent, one of Britain’s biggest water companies, also raised its dividend to £261m.Together, the two FTSE 100 water companies will have paid more than £560m to their investors over the past year.It came as Welsh Water said it was sending every customer a £10 rebate, after it admitted it had failed to report accurately the amount of water lost across its network through leaks, and the amount used by each customer.The only not-for-profit water supplier in England and Wales apologised to the 1.4m households and businesses it serves after it found more water had been lost through leaks than previously reported, while per capita consumption was lower.United Utilities said it was recommending paying investors a dividend of 30.34p per share for the year to 31 March.

This takes the firm’s full-year dividend to 45.51p, a rise of 4.6%, which is in line with its policy to raise payouts in line with a measure inflation including housing costs, calculated using the rate last November.The total payout amounted to a cost of £301m to the company.

This was in a year when its operations generated £788m of net cash, more than 15% lower than a year earlier, as inflation pushed its costs higher

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