Ad description

A TV ad for Wessex Water, seen on 29 February 2024, featured a voice-over that stated, “Storm overflows protect properties from flooding. They were designed to release wastewater and rainwater into waterways when sewers become overwhelmed. Storm overflows are outdated and unfit for the 21st century. The old ways are no longer the best ways, so we're following a different course. That's why we're investing £3 million a month to tackle storm overflows. Building more storm tanks to increase storage. Separating rainwater from sewage.

Treating wastewater naturally using wetlands. And monitoring changes to water quality. We can all find ways to help. Such as collecting rainwater to keep it out of the sewers. And we can bin wet wipes so they don't cause sewer blockages. It won't happen overnight. But a better way, for our waterways, is already underway. Wessex Water. For you. For life.” The ad included various scenes, including an aerial shot of a tree-lined river, and a person inspecting a water sample in a wetlands setting.


The complainant challenged whether the ad was misleading, because it omitted significant information about Wessex Water’s history of releasing sewage into the environment.


Wessex Water Services Ltd t/a Wessex Water said the ad contained no broad claims about environmental performance or the environment in general; rather, it specifically considered the issue of storm overflows, using clear and simple language. The ad openly acknowledged that wastewater was released into the environment when overflows operated and presented a substantiated course of action by which Wessex Water proposed to address that issue.In response to the complainant’s concern that the infrastructure had not been updated in accordance with regulations, Wessex Water said they had invested in accordance with the requirements of the Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT).

Their five-yearly business plan had also been approved by OFWAT. In support of the claim that £3 million per month was being invested into tackling storm overflows, they provided an overview of capital expenditure for the period 2020 to 2025.

Their Storm Overflows Improvement Plan listed their capital investment schemes for increasing storage capacity, introducing nature-based solutions such as reed beds and separating surface water from wastewater. For many years they had monitored and published real-time water quality data for all overflow operations at designated bathing water sites, and at the end of 2023 they had achieved their target of fitting monitors on all other storm overflows in the region. All scenes in the ad, including the construction sites and wetlands, had been shot in the Wessex Water region.

Wessex Water acknowledged that their Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) ratings were low for 2021 and 2022, but anticipated that they would return to a four-star rating when results were published for 2023. They said there had been extensive media coverage of investigations into sewage discharge and storm overflows, and believed viewers would therefore have some knowledge of the issues. They pointed out that “For you. For life” had been their company strapline since 2019 and was not specific to the ad. They said it referred to water being essential for human life and related to the water supply rather than the sewerage aspect of their business.

Clearcast said they recognised the importance of ensuring that marketing communications did not downplay or obscure past faults, malpractices or environmental concerns. When they reviewed the ad they took into consideration the wider context of investigations and prosecutions surrounding water companies and sewage release into waterways.

In their view, the ad took a balanced and transparent approach by acknowledging and addressing the shortcomings of outdated systems, particularly storm overflows and sewers, while providing an honest account of their forward progress plan. It gave only objective details of the improvements being made. It made no environmental impact statements, and did not imply environmental benefits or discount past events. In the context of an ad that set out and explained the flaws with old systems and detailed future improvements, “A better way for our waterways” did not, in their view, constitute an environmental improvement statement.



The BCAP Code required that ads must not mislead consumers by omitting material information. It specified that the basis of environmental claims must be clear, and that unqualified claims could mislead if they omitted significant information.

The ad initially focused on the problems with storm overflows – that is, they discharged sewage into waterways when sewers became overwhelmed with rainwater – and the improvements that Wessex Water were investing in, which was a specific initiative. The ad then broadened out in scope, and stated “The old ways are no longer the best ways, so we’re following a different course […] building more storm tanks to increase storage. Separating rainwater from sewage. Treating wastewater naturally using wetlands. And monitoring changes to water quality. We can all find ways to help […] a better way, for our waterways is already underway. Wessex Water. For you. For life”.

The ASA considered the overall impression of the ad was that Wessex Water were currently taking steps to improve their water management and systems not only to protect properties from flooding, but also to reduce environmental damage caused by pollution incidents associated with storm overflow failure. In particular, we considered the claims “a different course”, “For you. For life” and “A better way for our waterways is already underway”, and the visuals of a dark background changing to green waterways and wetlands contributed to the impression that, although the improvements were still in progress, some environmental benefit was already being achieved.

All water companies had licences and permits that they were required to comply with to reduce their impact on, and protect, the water environment. The Environment Agency stated that storm overflows were a necessary part of the current sewerage system. They discharged storm sewage (wastewater diluted with rainwater) to rivers or seas during periods of heavy or prolonged rainfall to prevent storm sewage backing up into homes and streets. If they operated within those circumstances and were compliant with their permit, they were not reported and recorded as pollution incidents. Furthermore, water companies were monitored for their compliance with their permits to discharge treated water from sewage treatment works and water treatment works.In 2022, which we understood was the most recent year for which data was available, Wessex Water had an overall EPA rating of two stars (out of a possible four), which meant the “company requires improvement”. Their EPA rating in 2021 was also two stars, in contrast to the period 2011-2020 where they had achieved either three or four stars. The 2022 EPA report stated they performed below target (amber status) for the number of sewerage pollution incidents. Furthermore, their performance was significantly below target (red status) for the number of serious pollution incidents related to sewerage and water supply in 2021 and 2022.

We accepted that Wessex Water’s activities in the area of storm overflows would likely result in improvements to their environmental impact. However, because their storm overflow problems had also caused harm to the environment, reflected in the most recent EPA rating, which contradicted the overall impression of the ad, we considered that was significant information which should have been made clear in the ads. We concluded that the ad omitted material information and was therefore likely to mislead.

The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1, 3.2 (Misleading advertising) and 9.2 (Environmental claims).


The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Wessex Water Services Ltd t/a Wessex Water to ensure that environmental claims were adequately qualified and that future ads did not omit material information about the environmental impact of Wessex Water.


3.1     3.2     9.2    

CAP Code (Edition 12)

3.1     3.3     1.3     4.5    

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