The parent company of Thames Water has been warned by its auditors that it could run out of money by April if shareholders do not inject more cash into the debt-laden firm.
In accounts signed off in July and published on the Companies House website last week, PricewaterhouseCoopers said there was “material uncertainty” about whether the main company behind the water supplier can continue as a going concern.
The disclosure was made in the 2022-23 accounts of Kemble Water Holdings, the company at the top of Thames Water’s byzantine ownership structure.
PwC made its assertion after noting that there were no firm arrangements in place to refinance a £190m loan at one of its subsidiary companies.
Thames Water is expected to face further scrutiny over its debt levels when it issues its results on Tuesday, and a possible investigation into whether it misled MPs earlier this year.
In June, it emerged that contingency plans for the collapse of Thames Water were being drawn up by the UK government amid fears that Britain’s biggest water company would not survive because of its huge debt pile.
Sir Robert Goodwill, chair of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee, said it was considering a fresh investigation after the Financial Times reported that Thames Water had originally presented a loan from its shareholders to its parent as new equity funding.
Alastair Cochran, chief financial officer at Thames Water, told MPs in July that its “incredibly supportive” shareholders “have already provided £500m of equity this year, in March, which was fully drawn by the company”.
However, according to the Kemble accounts, the investment had come in the form of a £515m convertible loan reportedly charging 8% interest per year.
The accounts highlights the complicated web of companies behind the water supplier. In early 2023, Kemble Water Holdings issued £515m of convertible loan notes to its shareholders, translating into £500m after fees, and this money was then “cascaded” through various parts of the group before eventually ending up with Thames Water Utilities Limited – the regulated company that supplies water and sewerage services to about 15m households in London and across the Thames valley area.
Last week the Liberal Democrats called for a public inquiry into both Thames Water and Ofwat.
A spokesperson for Thames Water told the Guardian that the water supply business was ringfenced and that customers’ supplies would be unaffected by any behind-the-scenes changes to the business structure.
“We are in a robust financial position and are extremely fortunate to have such supportive shareholders,” said the spokesperson. “Our shareholders have already invested £500m of equity in 2023. In addition, they have agreed to provide a further £750m in new equity funding across AMP7 [the water industry asset management plan period running from 2020 to 2025].
“This further funding is subject to satisfaction of certain conditions, including the preparation of a business plan that underpins a more focused turnaround that delivers targeted performance improvements for customers, the environment and other stakeholders over the next three years and is supported by appropriate regulatory arrangements.”
Kemble Water Holdings declined to comment.