Our risk management framework aims for continuous improvement

We have developed a sophisticated approach to the assessment, management and reporting of risks, with a process aligned to ISO 31000: 2009 and a well-established governance structure for the group board to review the nature and extent of the risks that the group faces and for the audit committee to review process effectiveness. This process is supported by a central database, tools, templates and guidance to drive consistency.

Our risk profile currently illustrates around 200 event-based risks. All event types (strategic, financial, operational, compliance and hazard) are considered in the context of our strategic themes (best service to customers; lowest sustainable cost; and responsible manner). For internal or external drivers, each event is assessed for the likelihood of occurrence and the negative financial or reputational impact on the company and its objectives, should the event occur.

Responsibility for the assessment and management of the risk (including monitoring and updating) is assigned to the appropriate individual manager who is also responsible for reporting on assessment, management and control/mitigation at least twice a year, in line with the reporting to the group board at full and half-year statutory accounting reporting periods.

By their nature, event-based risks in the context of our strategic themes will include all combinations of high to low likelihood and high to low impact. Heat maps are typically used in various managerial and group reports either as a method to collectively evaluate the extent of all risks within a certain profile or to illustrate the effectiveness of mitigation for a single risk by plotting the gross, current (net of existing controls) and the selected target position in an individual risk statement.

Impact Likehood Diagram

However, reporting a small number of event-based risks ranked by combined event likelihood and potential impact could distort principal risk disclosure as it would overlook other risks with a lesser individual exposure that, if they materialised individually or in aggregate, could have a material impact on the business model, future performance, solvency or liquidity of the group. Equally, event-based risks identified as part of our internal assessment process can be commercially sensitive, the disclosure of which could be detrimental to competitive advantage or our ability to mitigate risk over the longer term.

In order to address this, further understand the nature and extent of our entire profile and support the disclosure of principal risks, event-based risks are categorised (based on the event), when recorded onto the central database, into areas that define business activity or contributing factors where value can be lost. These categories have been set out in the table to reflect the principal risks (aggregated), together with associated issues or areas of uncertainty, potential for material effect, the extent of control/mitigation and the link to our main business objectives. We have also included in the three columns ‘Likelihood of occurrence’, ‘Potential aggregated net impact’ and ‘Trend’ more detailed analysis as explained in the key here.

Key features, developments over the last year and looking ahead

As expected, following the 2014 price determination the group’s risk profile is returning to one based more on operational performance, compliance and delivery risk. We have challenging demands on customer benefits, operational performance and investment requirements in light of population growth, climate change and strict legal/regulatory requirements. Competition and market reform remain high on the agenda however, with the ongoing development of the non-household market and uncertainty surrounding the impact of upstream competition for water and wastewater services.

There continue to be two ongoing pieces of material litigation worthy of note but, based on the facts currently known to us and the provisions in our statement of financial position, our directors remain of the opinion that the likelihood of these having a material adverse impact on the group’s financial position is remote.

    • In February 2009, United Utilities International Limited (UUIL) was served with notice of a multiparty ‘class action’ in Argentina related to the issuance and payment default of a US$230 million bond by Inversora Eléctrica de Buenos Aires S.A. (IEBA), an Argentine project company set up to purchase one of the Argentine electricity distribution networks which was privatised in 1997. UUIL had a 45 per cent shareholding in IEBA which it sold in 2005. The claim is for a non-quantified amount of unspecified damages and purports to be pursued on behalf of unidentified consumer bondholders in IEBA. UUIL has filed a defence to the action and will vigorously resist the proceedings given the robust defences that UUIL has been advised that it has on procedural and substantive grounds.
    • In March 2010, Manchester Ship Canal Company (MSCC) issued proceedings seeking, amongst other relief, damages alleging trespass against United Utilities Water Limited (UUW) in respect of UUW’s discharges of water and treated effluent into the canal. Whilst the matter has not reached a final conclusion, the Supreme Court has found substantively in UUW’s favour on a significant element of the claim and referred the remainder of the proceedings back to the High Court.

United Utilities risk management process (adapted from ISO 31000: 2009)

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Corporate risk framework - governance and reporting structure

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Key 55

Risk categoryMain business objectiveCurrent key risks, issues or areas of uncertainty include:Potential impactsLikelihood of occurrencePotential aggregated net impactTrendControl mitigation
Regulatory environment and framework

Lowest Sustainable Cost

  • Market reform including non-household and upstream competition
  • A possible change from using the retail prices index to the consumer prices index for regulatory indexation
Changes to regulation and the regulatory regime (either through political or regulatory events) may increase costs of administration, reduce income and margin and lead to greater variability of returns.UnlikelyRisks Chart OneMediumArrow DownWe engage in relevant government and regulatory consultations which may affect policy and regulation in the sectors where we operate. We also consult with customers to understand their requirements and proactively consider all the opportunities and threats associated with any potential change, exploiting opportunities and mitigating risks where appropriate.
Corporate governance and legal compliance

Responsible Manner

  • Competition law and regulatory compliance whilst preparing for and operating within a changing competitive market
  • Material litigation (see here)
  • New higher fine levels for environmental offences
Non-compliance with existing or future UK or international laws or regulations (especially given the highly regulated environment we operate in) could result in additional workload and operating costs in justifying or defending our position and financial penalties (including of up to 10 per cent of relevant regulated turnover for extreme events) and compensation following litigation is also possible, together with additional capital/operating expenditure as a result of the imposition of enforcement orders. In more remote but extreme circumstances, impacts could ultimately include licence revocation or the appointment of a special administrator.UnlikelyRisks Chart TwoLowArrow SpreadLegislative and regulatory developments are continually monitored. Risk-based training of employees is undertaken and we participate in consultations to influence legislative and regulatory developments. Funding for any additional compliance costs in the regulated business is sought as part of the price determination process. The group also robustly defends litigation where appropriate and seeks to minimise its exposure by establishing provisions and seeking recovery wherever possible.
Water service

Best Service to Customers

  • Dealing with the impacts of population growth, climate change and weather conditions
  • Meeting infrastructure investment requirements and balancing supply and demand
  • Expected change to the abstraction licensing regime
Operational performance problems or service failures can lead to increased regulatory scrutiny, regulatory penalties and/or additional operating or capital expenditure. In more extreme situations the group could also be fined for breaches of statutory obligations, be held liable to third parties and sustain reputational damage.RemoteRisks Chart ThreeHighArrow SpreadMitigation is provided through core business processes, including forecasting, quality assurance procedures, risk assessments and rigorous sampling/testing regimes. Ongoing integration of water and wastewater networks improves service provision and measures of success have been developed to monitor performance. We also undertake customer education programmes, seeking to minimise related operational issues.
Wastewater service

Best Service to Customers

UnlikelyRisks Chart FourLowArrow Down
Security, assets and operational resilience

Best Service to Customers

  • The threat of cybercrime and/or terrorism affecting our assets or operations
Our resources, assets and infrastructure are exposed to various threats (malicious or accidental) and natural hazards which could impact the provision of vital services to the public and commercial business.RemoteRisks Chart FiveMediumArrow SpreadPhysical and technological security measures combined with strong governance and inspection regimes aim to protect infrastructure, assets and operational capability. Ongoing integration of water and wastewater networks improves operational resilience and we maintain robust incident response, business continuity and disaster recovery procedures. We also maintain insurance cover for loss and liability and the licence of the regulated business also contains a ‘shipwreck’ clause that, if applicable, may offer a degree of recourse to Ofwat/customers in the event of a catastrophic incident.
Human and IT resource

Responsible Manner

  • Delivering required employee engagement, talent management, technological innovation and IT asset management
Capacity, capability and effectiveness problems associated with human and IT resource will impact the efficiency and effectiveness of business activity, the ability to make appropriate decisions and ultimately meet targets. This can also affect the ability to recruit and retain knowledge/expertise or to recover effectively following an incident. In remote but extreme circumstances there is also the potential for higher levels of regulatory scrutiny, financial penalties, reputational damage and missed commercial opportunities.UnlikelyRisks Chart SixLowArrow SpreadDeveloping our people with the right skills and knowledge, combined with delivering effective technology are important enablers to support the business to meet its objectives. Employees are kept informed regarding business strategy and progress through various communication channels. Training and personal development programmes exist for all employees in addition to talent management programmes and apprentice and graduate schemes. We focus on change programmes and innovative ways of working to deliver better, faster and more cost-effective operations.
Tax, treasury and financial control

Lowest Sustainable Cost

  • Stability of financial institutions and the world economy
  • The speed of economic recovery
  • Inflation/deflation
  • Financial market conditions, interest rates and funding costs
Failure to deliver capital or change programmes against relevant time, cost or quality measures could result in a failure to secure competitive advantage or operating performance efficiency and cost benefits. There is also the risk of increased delivery costs or a failure to meet our obligations and customer outcomes which, depending on the nature and extent of failure, could result in an impact at future price reviews, regulatory or statutory penalties and negative reputational impact with customers and regulators.UnlikelyRisks Chart SevenHighArrow SpreadRefinancing is long-term with staggered maturity dates to minimise the effect of short-term downturns. Counterparty credit, exposure and settlement limits exist to reduce any potential future impacts. These are based on a number of factors, including the credit rating and the size of the asset base of the individual counterparty. The group also employs hedging strategies to stabilise market fluctuation for inflation, interest rates and commodities (notably energy prices). Sensitivity analysis is carried out as part of the business planning process, influencing the various financial limits employed. Continuous monitoring of the markets takes place including movements in credit default swap prices and movements in equity levels.
Programme delivery

Lowest Sustainable Cost

  • Supply chain security of supply and delivery of solutions, quality and innovation
  • New contract delivery partnerships for the 2015–2020 period with a new approach to construction and design
Failure to deliver capital or change programmes against relevant time, cost or quality measures could result in a failure to secure competitive advantage or operating performance efficiency and cost benefits. There is also the risk of increased delivery costs or a failure to meet our obligations and customer outcomes which, depending on the nature and extent of failure, could result in an impact at future price reviews, regulatory or statutory penalties and negative reputational impact with customers and regulators.UnlikelyRisks Chart EightMediumArrow SpreadWe have a developed and clear view of our investment priorities which are built into our programmes, projects and integrated business and asset plans. We have created better alignment and integration between our capital delivery partners and engineering service provider including alignment with our operating model. Our programme and project management capabilities are well established with strong governance and embedded processes to support delivery, manage risks and achieve business benefits. We utilise a time, cost and quality index (TCQi) as a key performance indicator and enhance our performance through a dedicated programme change office to deliver change in a structured and consistent way. Supply chain management is utilised to deliver end-to-end contract management which includes contract strategy and tendering, category management, security of supply, price and price volatility and financial and operational service level performance.

Lowest Sustainable Cost

  • Socio-economic deprivation in the North West
  • Welfare reform and the impact on domestic bad debt
  • Competition in the water and wastewater market and competitor positioning
  • The standards of service to our customers
Poor service to customers can result in financial penalties issued by the regulator through components of the service incentive mechanism for domestic customers and loss of revenue associated with commercial churn for commercial customers using five megalitres and above per annum. The proposed opening of the market for retail services to all non-household customers in England from 2017 generates both opportunities and risk associated with market share, scale and margin erosion. There is also much uncertainty surrounding the form of upstream reform which is now anticipated to materialise post-2019.UnlikelyRisks Chart NineMediumArrow SpreadFor domestic retail there is a transformation plan in place covering a wide range of initiatives and activities to improve customer service, with a number of controls in place to monitor achievement against the plan. Similarly, we look to retain existing and acquire new commercial customers by striving to meet their needs more effectively. We monitor competitor activity and target a reduction in operating costs.
Health, safety and environmental

Responsible Manner

  • Risks associated with excavation, tunnelling and construction work and working with water and wastewater
  • Weather conditions
Working with and around water, sewage, construction and excavation sites, plant and equipment exposes employees, contractors and visitors to various man-made and naturally occurring hazards which could cause harm to people and the environment. Depending on the circumstances the group could be fined for breaches of statutory obligations, be held liable to third parties and sustain reputational damage.RemoteRisks Chart TenLowArrow SpreadWe have developed a strong health, safety and environmental culture supported by strong governance and management systems which include policies and procedures which are certified to OHSAS 18001 and ISO 14001.