Of the accounting policies outlined below, those deemed to be the most significant for the group are those that align with the critical accounting judgements and key sources of estimation uncertainty set out in Accounting policies.
Basis of consolidation
The group financial statements consolidate the financial statements of the company and entities controlled by the company (its subsidiaries), and incorporate the results of its share of joint ventures using the equity method of accounting. The results of subsidiaries and joint ventures acquired or disposed of during the year are included in the consolidated income statement from the date control is obtained or until the date that control ceases, as appropriate.
Where necessary, adjustments are made to the financial statements of subsidiaries to bring the accounting policies used under the relevant local GAAP into line with those used by the group. Amounts attributable to non-controlling interests are presented separately in equity and total comprehensive income where material.
Subsidiaries are entities controlled by the group. Control is achieved where the group is exposed to, or has the rights to, variable returns from its involvement in an entity and has the ability to affect those returns through its power over the entity. In the parent company accounts, investments are held at cost less provision for impairment.
On acquisition, the assets and liabilities and contingent liabilities of a subsidiary are measured at their fair values at the date of acquisition. Any excess of the cost of acquisition over the fair values of the identifiable net assets acquired is recognised as goodwill. Any deficiency of the cost of acquisition below the fair values of the identifiable net assets acquired is credited to the income statement in the period of acquisition. All intra-group transactions, balances, income and expenses are eliminated on consolidation.
Joint ventures are entities in which the group holds an interest on a long-term basis and which are jointly controlled with one or more parties under a contractual arrangement. The group's share of joint venture results and assets and liabilities is incorporated using the equity method of accounting. Under the equity method, an investment in a joint venture is initially recognised at cost and adjusted thereafter to recognise the group's share of the profit or loss.
On losing control of a subsidiary disposed of to a joint venture, the group recognises the gain or loss attributable to measuring the investment retained in the former subsidiary at its fair value at the date when control is lost.
Revenue represents the fair value of the consideration receivable in the ordinary course of business for goods and services provided, exclusive of value added tax and foreign sales tax. Where relevant, this includes an estimate of the sales value of units supplied to customers between the date of the last meter reading and the period end. The group recognises revenue generally at the time of delivery and when collection of the resulting receivable is reasonably assured. Should the group consider that the criteria for revenue recognition is not met for a transaction, revenue recognition would be delayed until such time as collectability is reasonably assured. Payments received in advance of revenue recognition are recorded as deferred income. This includes the revenue in respect of connection activities which has been impacted by IFRS 15. The revenue in respect of these activities is then released to the income statement over a period of 60 years, which is deemed to be the time over which the performance obligation for providing the connection is satisfied.
Operating profit is stated after charging operational expenses but before investment income and finance expense.
Borrowing costs and finance income
Except as noted below, all borrowing costs and finance income are recognised in the income statement on an accruals basis.
Transaction costs that are directly attributable to the acquisition or issue of a financial asset or financial liability are included in the initial fair value of that instrument.
Where borrowing costs are attributable to the acquisition, construction or production of a qualifying asset, such costs are capitalised as part of the specific asset.
Tax on the profit or loss for the year comprises current and deferred tax. Tax is recognised in the income statement except to the extent that it relates to items recognised directly in equity, in which case it is recognised in equity. Assessing the outcome of uncertain tax positions requires judgements to be made regarding the application of tax law and the result of negotiations with, and enquiries from, tax authorities in a number of jurisdictions. A current tax provision is only recognised when the group has a present obligation as a result of a past event and it is probable that the group will be required to settle that obligation to a taxing authority.
Current tax is based on the taxable profit for the period and is provided at amounts expected to be paid or recovered using the tax rates and laws that have been enacted or substantively enacted at each reporting date.
Taxable profit differs from the net profit as reported in the income statement because it excludes items of income or expense that are taxable or deductible in other years and it further excludes items that are never taxable or deductible.
Current tax is charged or credited in the income statement, except when it relates to items charged or credited to equity, in which case the tax is also dealt with in equity.
Deferred tax is the tax expected to be payable or recoverable on differences between the carrying amounts of assets and liabilities in the financial statements and the corresponding tax bases used in the computation of taxable profit. Deferred tax liabilities are provided, using the liability method, on all taxable temporary differences at each reporting date. Such assets and liabilities are not recognised if the temporary difference arises from goodwill or from the initial recognition (other than in a business combination) of other assets and liabilities in a transaction that affects neither the taxable profit nor the accounting profit.
Deferred tax liabilities are recognised for taxable temporary differences arising on investments in subsidiaries and interests in joint ventures, except where the group is able to control the reversal of the temporary difference and it is probable that the temporary difference will not reverse in the foreseeable future.
Deferred tax is measured at the average tax rates that are expected to apply in the periods in which the temporary timing differences are expected to reverse based on tax rates and laws that have been enacted or substantively enacted at each reporting date.
The carrying amount of deferred tax assets is reviewed at each reporting date and is reduced to the extent that it is no longer probable that sufficient taxable profits will be available to allow all or part of the asset to be recovered.
Deferred tax is charged or credited in the income statement, except when it relates to items charged or credited to equity, in which case the deferred tax is also dealt with in equity.
Property, plant and equipment
Property, plant and equipment (PPE) comprises water and wastewater infrastructure assets and overground assets.
The useful economic lives of these assets are primarily as follows:
- Water and wastewater infrastructure assets:
- Impounding reservoirs 200 years;
- Mains and raw water aqueducts 30 to 300 years;
- Sewers and sludge pipelines 60 to 300 years;
- Sea outfalls 77 years;
- Buildings 10 to 60 years;
- Operational assets 5 to 80 years; and
- Fixtures, fittings, tools and equipment 3 to 40 years.
Employee and other related costs incurred in implementing the capital schemes of the group are capitalised.
The group is required to evaluate the carrying values of PPE for impairment whenever circumstances indicate, in management's view, that the carrying value of such assets may not be recoverable. An impairment review requires management to make uncertain estimates concerning the cash flows, growth rates and discount rates of the cash generating units under review.
Costs associated with a major inspection or overhaul of an asset or group of assets are capitalised within property, plant and equipment and depreciated over the period of time expected to elapse between major inspections or overhauls.
Water and wastewater infrastructure assets
Infrastructure assets comprise a network of water and wastewater pipes and systems. Expenditure on the infrastructure assets, including borrowing costs where applicable, relating to increases in capacity or enhancements of the network, is treated as additions. Amounts incurred in maintaining the operating capability of the network in accordance with defined standards of service are expensed in the year in which the expenditure is incurred. Infrastructure assets are depreciated by writing off their cost (or deemed cost for infrastructure assets held on transition to IFRS), less the estimated residual value, evenly over their useful economic lives.
All other property, plant and equipment is stated at historical cost less accumulated depreciation.
Historical cost includes expenditure that is directly attributable to the acquisition of the items, including relevant borrowing costs, where applicable, for qualifying assets. Subsequent costs are included in the asset's carrying amount or recognised as a separate asset, as appropriate, only when it is probable that future economic benefits associated with the item will flow to the group and the cost of the item can be measured reliably. All other repairs and maintenance costs are charged to the income statement during the financial period in which they are incurred.
Freehold land and assets in the course of construction are not depreciated. Other assets are depreciated by writing off their cost, less their estimated residual value, evenly over their estimated useful economic lives, based on management's judgement and experience.
Depreciation methods, residual values and useful economic lives are reassessed annually and, if necessary, changes are accounted for prospectively. The gain or loss arising on the disposal or retirement of an asset is determined as the difference between the sales proceeds and the carrying amount of the asset and is recognised in other operating costs.
Transfer of assets from customers and developers
Where the group receives from a customer or developer an item of property, plant and equipment (or cash to construct or acquire an item of property, plant and equipment) that the group must then use, either to connect the customer to the network, or to provide the customer with ongoing access to a supply of goods or services, or to do both, such items are capitalised at their fair value and included within property, plant and equipment, with a credit of the same amount to deferred grants and contributions. The assets are depreciated over their useful economic lives and the deferred contributions released to revenue over the 60 years, which is the estimated period over which an average connection through which the group provides water and wastewater services is expected to be in place (or where the receipt of property, plant and equipment is solely to connect the customer to the network, the deferred contribution is released immediately to revenue). This accounting treatment has been applied to transfers of assets from customers received on or after 1 July 2009.
Assets transferred from customers or developers are accounted for at fair value. If no market exists for the assets then incremental cash flows are used to arrive at fair value.
Intangible assets are measured initially at cost and are amortised on a straight-line basis over their estimated useful economic lives. The carrying amount is reduced by any provision for impairment where necessary. On a business combination, as well as recording separable intangible assets already recognised in the statement of financial position of the acquired entity at their fair value, identifiable intangible assets that arise from contractual or other legal rights are also included in the acquisition statement of financial position at fair value.
Internal expenditure is capitalised as internally generated intangibles only if it meets the criteria of IAS 38 'Intangible Assets'.
Intangible assets, which relate primarily to computer software, are generally amortised over a period of three to 10 years.
Impairment of assets
Where appropriate, assets are reviewed for impairment at each reporting date to determine whether there is any indication that those assets may have suffered an impairment loss. Where the asset does not generate cash flows that are independent from other assets, the group estimates the recoverable amount of the cash generating unit to which the asset belongs.
The recoverable amount is the higher of fair value less costs to sell, and value in use. Value in use represents the net present value of expected future cash flows, discounted on a pre-tax basis, using a rate that reflects current market assessments of the time value of money and the risks specific to the asset, for which the estimates of future cash flows have not been adjusted.
If the recoverable amount of an asset (or cash generating unit) is estimated to be less than its carrying amount, the carrying amount of the asset (or cash generating unit) is reduced to its recoverable amount. Impairment losses in respect of non-current assets are recognised in the income statement within operating costs.
Where an impairment loss subsequently reverses, the reversal is recognised in the income statement and the carrying amount of the asset is increased to the revised estimate of its recoverable amount, but not so as to exceed the carrying amount that would have been determined had no impairment loss been recognised in prior years.
Non-current assets held for sale
Non-current assets classified as held for sale are measured at the lower of carrying value and fair value less costs to sell. Non-current assets are classified as held for sale if their carrying amount will be recovered through a sale transaction rather than through continuing use. This condition is regarded as having been met only when the sale is highly probable and the asset is available for immediate sale in its present condition. Management must be committed to the sale, which should be expected to qualify for recognition as a completed sale within one year from the date of classification.
Financial assets and financial liabilities are recognised and derecognised on the group's statement of financial position on the trade date when the group becomes/ceases to be a party to the contractual provisions of the instrument.
Cash and short-term deposits
Cash and short-term deposits include cash at bank and in hand, deposits and other short-term highly liquid investments which are readily convertible into known amounts of cash, have a maturity of three months or less from the date of acquisition and which are subject to an insignificant risk of change in value. In the consolidated statement of cash flows and related notes, cash and cash equivalents include cash and short-term deposits, net of book overdrafts.
Investments (other than interests in subsidiaries, joint ventures and fixed deposits) are initially measured at fair value, including transaction costs. Investments classified as financial assets measured at fair value through profit or loss (FVPL) in accordance with IFRS 9 'Financial Instruments' are measured at subsequent reporting dates at fair value. Gains and losses arising from changes in fair value are recognised in the net profit or loss for the period. The business model employed in respect of financial assets is that of a hold-to-collect model.
Trade receivables are initially measured at fair value, and are subsequently measured at amortised cost, less any impairment for irrecoverable amounts. Estimated irrecoverable amounts are based on historical experience of the receivables balance.
Trade payables are initially measured at fair value and are subsequently measured at amortised cost.
Financial liabilities and equity
Financial liabilities and equity instruments are classified according to the substance of the contractual arrangements entered into. An equity instrument is any contract that evidences a residual interest in the assets of the group after deducting all of its liabilities.
Equity instruments issued by the group are recorded at the proceeds received, net of direct issue costs.
The group's default treatment is that bonds and loans are initially measured at fair value, being the cash proceeds received net of any direct issue costs. They are subsequently measured at amortised cost applying the effective interest method. The difference between the net cash proceeds received at inception and the principal cash flows due at maturity is accrued over the term of the borrowing.
The default treatment of measuring at amortised cost, while associated hedging derivatives are recognised at fair value, presents an accounting measurement mismatch that has the potential to introduce considerable volatility to both the income statement and the statement of financial position. Therefore, where feasible, the group takes advantage of the provisions under IFRS 9 'Financial Instruments' to make fair value adjustments to its borrowing instruments to reduce this volatility and better represent the economic hedges that exist between the group's borrowings and associated derivative contracts.
Where feasible, the group designates its financial instruments within fair value hedge relationships. In order to apply fair value hedge accounting, it must be demonstrated that there is an economic relationship between the borrowing instrument and the hedging derivative and that the designated hedge ratio is consistent with the group's risk management strategy.
Borrowings designated within a fair value hedge relationship
Where designated, bonds and loans are initially measured at fair value, being the cash proceeds received net of any direct issue costs. They are subsequently adjusted for any change in fair value attributable to the risk being hedged at each reporting date, with the change being charged or credited to finance expense in the income statement.
Hedge accounting is discontinued prospectively when the hedging instrument is sold, terminated or exercised, or where the hedge relationship no longer qualifies for hedge accounting.
Under the provisions of IFRS 9 'Financial Instruments', changes in the group's own credit risk are recognised in other comprehensive income.
Borrowings designated at fair value through profit or loss
Designation is made where the requirements to designate within a fair value hedge cannot be met at inception despite there being significant fair value offset between the borrowing and the hedging derivative. Where designated, bonds and loans are initially measured at fair value being the cash proceeds received and are subsequently measured at fair value at each reporting date, with changes in fair value being charged or credited to finance expense in the income statement.
Derivative financial instruments
The group's default treatment is that derivative financial instruments are measured at fair value at each reporting date, with changes in fair value being charged or credited to finance expense in the income statement. The group enters into financial derivatives contracts to manage its financial exposure to changes in market rates (see note A4).
Derivative financial instruments designated within a cash flow hedge relationship
Gains or losses resulting from the effective portion of the hedging instrument are recognised in other comprehensive income and in the cash flow hedge reserve with any remaining gains or losses recognised immediately in the income statement. The cash flow hedge reserve is adjusted to the lower of the cumulative gain or loss on the hedging instrument and cumulative change in fair value of the hedged item. At the maturity date, amounts paid/received are recognised against operating expenses in the income statement.
Upon discontinuation of a cash flow hedge, the amount accumulated in other comprehensive income remains in the cash flow hedge reserve if the hedged future cash flows are still expected to occur. Otherwise the amount is immediately reclassified to the income statement.
Derivatives and borrowings – valuation
Where an active market exists, designated borrowings and derivatives recorded at fair value are valued using quoted market prices. Otherwise, they are valued using a net present value valuation model. The model uses applicable interest rate curve data at each reporting date to determine any floating cash flows. Projected future cash flows associated with each financial instrument are discounted to the reporting date using discount factors derived from the applicable interest curves adjusted for counterparty credit risk where appropriate. Discounted foreign currency cash flows are converted into sterling at the spot exchange rate at each reporting date. Assumptions are made with regard to credit spreads based on indicative pricing data.
The valuation of debt designated in a fair value hedge relationship is calculated based on the risk being hedged as prescribed by IFRS 9 ‘Financial Instruments’. The group’s policy is to hedge its exposure to changes in the applicable underlying interest rate and it is this portion of the cash flows that is included in the valuation model (excluding any applicable company credit risk spread).
The valuation of debt designated at fair value through the profit or loss incorporates an assumed credit risk spread in the applicable discount factor. Credit spreads are determined based on indicative pricing data.
Inventories are stated at the lower of cost and net realisable value. For properties held for resale, cost includes the cost of acquiring and developing the sites, including borrowing costs where applicable.
Net realisable value represents the estimated selling price less all estimated costs of completion and costs to be incurred in marketing, selling and distribution.
Retirement benefit obligations
The group operates two defined benefit pension schemes, which are independent of the group's finances, for its employees. Actuarial valuations to determine the funding of the schemes, along with future contribution rates, are carried out by the pension scheme actuary as directed by the trustees at intervals of not more than three years. In any intervening years, the trustees review the continuing appropriateness of the funding and contribution rates.
From a financial reporting perspective and in accordance with IAS 19 'Employee Benefits', defined benefit assets are measured at fair value while liabilities are measured at present value, using the projected unit credit method. The difference between the two amounts is recognised as a surplus or obligation in the statement of financial position. Where this difference results in a defined benefit surplus, this is recognised in accordance with IFRIC 14 'IAS 19 – The Limit on a Defined Benefit Asset, Minimum Funding Requirements and their Interaction', on the basis that the group has an unconditional right to a refund of any surplus that may exist following the full settlement of plan liabilities in a single event.
The pension cost under IAS 19 is assessed in accordance with the advice of a firm of actuaries based on the latest actuarial valuation and assumptions determined by the actuary, which are used to estimate the present value of defined benefit obligations. The assumptions are based on information supplied to the actuary by the company, supplemented by discussions between the actuary and management. The assumptions are disclosed in note A5.
The cost of providing pension benefits to employees relating to the current year's service (including curtailment gains and losses) is included within employee benefits expense, while the interest on the schemes' assets and liabilities is included within investment income and finance expense respectively. Remeasurement gains/losses on scheme assets and liabilities are presented in other comprehensive income.
In addition, the group operates a defined contribution pension section within the United Utilities Pension Scheme. Payments are charged as employee costs as they fall due. The group has no further payment obligations once the contributions have been paid.
Share-based compensation arrangements
The group operates equity-settled, share-based compensation plans, issued to certain employees. The equity-settled share-based payments are measured at fair value at the date of grant. The fair value determined at the grant date is expensed on a straight-line basis over the vesting period, based on estimates of the number of options that are expected to vest. Fair value is based on simulation models, according to the relevant measures of performance. The group has the option to settle some of these equity-settled share-based payments in cash. At each reporting date, the group revises its estimate of the number of options that are expected to become exercisable with the impact of any revision being recognised in the income statement, and a corresponding adjustment to equity over the remaining vesting period.
Provisions are recognised when the group has a present legal or constructive obligation as a result of past events, it is probable that an outflow of resources will be required to settle the obligation, and the amount can be reliably estimated. Expenditure that relates to an existing condition caused by past operations that does not contribute to current or future earnings is expensed.
Foreign currency translation
Transactions and balances
Transactions in foreign currencies are recorded at the exchange rates applicable on the dates of the transactions. At each reporting date, monetary assets and liabilities denominated in foreign currencies are translated into sterling at the relevant rates of exchange applicable on that date. Gains and losses arising on retranslation are included in net profit or loss for the period.
Exchange differences arising on investments in equity instruments classified as fair value through other comprehensive income are included in the gains or losses arising from changes in fair value which are recognised directly in equity. In order to hedge its exposure to certain foreign exchange risks, the group enters into derivative instruments (see note A4).
On consolidation, the statements of financial position of overseas subsidiaries and joint ventures (none of which has the currency of a hyperinflationary economy) are translated into sterling at exchange rates applicable at each reporting date. The income statements are translated into sterling using the average rate unless exchange rates fluctuate significantly, in which case the exchange rate at the date the transaction occurred is used. Exchange differences resulting from the translation of such statements of financial position at rates ruling at the beginning and end of the period, together with the differences between income statements translated at average rates and rates ruling at the period end, are dealt with as movements on the group's cumulative exchange reserve, a separate component of equity. Such translation differences are recognised as income or expense in the period in which the operation is disposed of.
Goodwill and fair value adjustments arising on the acquisition of a foreign entity are treated as assets and liabilities of the foreign entity and translated at the closing rate. The group has elected to treat goodwill and fair value adjustments arising on acquisitions before the date of implementation of IFRS 3 'Business Combinations' (1 April 1999) as sterling-denominated assets and liabilities.
Grants and contributions
Grants and contributions receivable in respect of property, plant and equipment are treated as deferred income, which is credited to the income statement over the estimated useful economic lives of the related assets.
At inception of a contract, the group assesses whether a contract is or contains a lease. Where a lease is present, at the commencement date, a right-of-use asset and lease liability is recognised. The lease liability is measured at the present value of future lease payments due over the term of the lease. The typical items which the group leases include land, buildings and vehicles.
The lease payments are discounted using the group's incremental rate of borrowing if the interest rate implicit in the lease cannot be readily determined. For materially all of the group's leases, the group's incremental rate of borrowing is used. This rate is calculated using a number of inputs, being observable risk-free gilt rates, specific data based on bonds already in circulation for the relevant group company as well as data from the wider utility sector. Further adjustments for payment profile and the term of the lease are made.
Right-of-use assets are recognised as property, plant and equipment at cost, this is generally equivalent to the initial measurement of the lease liability. Depreciation is charged on a straight-line basis over the term of lease.
After the commencement date, the lease liability is increased for the accretion of interest (being the unwinding of the discounting applied to future leases payments) and reduced by lease payments made. In addition to this, the carrying amount is updated to reflect any remeasurement or lease modifications. Remeasurements are typically required as a result of rent reviews or changes to the lease term. In these cases a corresponding adjustment to the right-of-use asset is made.
Where leases have a term of less than 12 months or are leases of low value assets, the group has elected not to recognise right-of-use assets and lease liabilities as permitted by IFRS 16 'Leases'. Lease payments are instead charged to the income statement on a straight-line basis over the period of the lease.