IAS 1, paras 122, 125, 129, judgements and estimates separately identified with sensitivities

United Utilities Group PLC – Annual report – 31 March 2019

Industry: utilities

Accounting policies (extract)
Critical accounting judgements and key sources of estimation uncertainty
In the process of applying its accounting policies set out in note A7, the group is required to make certain estimates, judgements and assumptions that it believes are reasonable based on the information vailable. These judgements, estimates and assumptions affect the carrying amounts of assets and liabilities at the date of the financial statements and the amounts of revenues and expenses recognised uring the reporting periods presented. Changes to these estimates, judgements and assumptions could have a material effect on the financial statements.

On an ongoing basis, the group evaluates its estimates using historical experience, consultation with experts and other methods considered reasonable in the particular circumstances. Actual results may differ significantly from the estimates, the effect of which is recognised in the period in which the facts that give rise to the revision become known.

The following paragraphs detail the estimates and judgements the group believes to have the most significant impact on the annual results under IFRS.

Revenue recognition and allowance for doubtful receivables
Accounting judgement – The group recognises revenue generally at the time of delivery and when collection of the resulting receivable is reasonably assured. When the group considers that the criteria for revenue recognition are not met for a transaction, revenue recognition is delayed until such time as collectability is reasonably assured. There are two different criteria whereby management does not recognise revenue for amounts which have been billed to the customer on the basis that collectability is not reasonably assured. These are as follows:

  • The customer has not paid their bills for a period of at least two years; and
  • The customer has paid their bills in the preceding two years; however, has previously had statements de-recognised and has more than their current year debt outstanding.

This two-criteria approach resulted in £18.0 million of amounts billed not being recognised as revenue during the year (net of cash receipts and credits). Had management made an alternative judgement that where customers have paid in the preceding two years, and have more than their current year debt outstanding, the recoverability of the entirety of their debt was deemed to be reasonably assured (i.e. the second criteria were disapplied), the required adjustment to revenue would have been £12.8 million lower. Payments received in advance of revenue recognition are recorded as deferred income.

Accounting estimate – At each reporting date, the company and each of its subsidiaries evaluate the estimated recoverability of trade receivables and record allowances for doubtful receivables based on experience. Judgements associated with these allowances are based on, among other things, a consideration of actual collection history. The actual level of receivables collected may differ from the estimated levels of recovery, which could impact operating results positively or negatively. At 31 March 2019, the allowance for doubtful receivables relating to household customer debt of £52.9 million was supported by a six-year cash collection projection. Based on a five-year or seven-year cash collection projection the allowance for doubtful receivables would have been £50.9 million or £53.5 million respectively.

Accounting estimate – United Utilities Water Limited raises bills in accordance with its entitlement to receive revenue in line with the limits established by the periodic regulatory price review processes. For water and wastewater customers with water meters, the receivable billed is dependent on the volume supplied, including the sales value of an estimate of the units supplied between the date of the last meter reading and the billing date. Meters are read on a cyclical basis and the group recognises revenue for unbilled amounts based on estimated usage from the last billing through to each reporting date. The estimated usage is based on historical data, judgement and assumptions; actual results could differ from these estimates, which would result in operating revenues being adjusted in the period that the revision to the estimates is determined. Revenue recognised for unbilled amounts for these customers at 31 March 2019 was £47.2 million. Had actual consumption been five per cent higher or lower than the estimate of units supplied this would have resulted in revenue recognised for unbilled amounts being £4.2 million higher or lower respectively. For customers who do not have a meter, the receivable billed and revenue recognised is dependent on the rateable value of the property, as assessed by an independent rating officer.

Property, plant and equipment
Accounting judgement – The group recognises property, plant and equipment (PPE) on its water and wastewater infrastructure assets where such expenditure enhances or increases the capacity of the network, whereas any expenditure classed as maintenance is expensed in the period it is incurred. Determining enhancement from maintenance expenditure requires an accounting judgement, particularly when projects have both elements within them. Enhancement spend was 26 per cent of total spend in relation to infrastructure assets during the year. A change of +/- one per cent would have resulted in £2.4 million less/more expenditure being charged to the income statement during the period. In addition, management capitalises time and resources incurred by the group’s support functions on capital programmes, which requires accounting judgements to be made in relation to the appropriate capitalisation rates. Support costs allocated to PPE represent 46 per cent of total support costs. A change in allocation of +/- one per cent would have resulted in £0.8 million less/more expenditure being charged to the income statement during the period.

Accounting estimate – The estimated useful economic lives of PPE and intangible assets is based on management’s experience. When management identifies that actual useful economic lives differ materially from the estimates used to calculate depreciation, that charge is adjusted prospectively. Due to the significance of PPE and intangibles investment to the group, variations between actual and estimated useful economic lives could impact operating results both positively and negatively. As such, this is a key source of estimation uncertainty, although historically few changes to estimated useful economic lives have been required. The depreciation and amortisation expense for the year was £393.2 million. A 10 per cent increase in average asset lives would have resulted in a £38.9 million reduction in this figure and a 10 per cent decrease in average asset lives would have resulted in a £39.5 million increase in this figure.

Retirement benefits
Accounting estimate – The group operates two defined benefit pension schemes which are independent of the group’s finances. Actuarial valuations of the schemes are carried out as determined by the trustees at intervals of not more than three years. Profit before tax and net assets are affected by the actuarial assumptions used. The key assumptions include: discount rates, pay growth, mortality, and increases to pensions in payment and deferred pensions. It should be noted that actual rates may differ from the assumptions used due to changing market and economic conditions and longer or shorter lives of participants and, as such, this represents a key source of estimation uncertainty. Sensitivities in respect of the assumptions used during the year are disclosed in note A5.

Joint ventures – Water Plus
Accounting estimate – The group has an equity investment in Water Plus Group Limited, a joint venture with Severn Trent PLC, the recoverability of which is considered with reference to the present value of the estimated future cash flows of the joint venture. Please see note 12 for details of the significant estimates relating to the recoverable amount of this investment, as well as an assessment of how sensitive the recoverable amount is to reasonably possible downside scenarios.

Derivative financial instruments
Accounting estimate – The model used to fair value the group’s derivative financial instruments requires management to estimate future cash flows based on applicable interest rate curves. Projected cash flows are then discounted back using discount factors which are derived from the applicable interest rate curves adjusted for management’s estimate of counterparty and own credit risk, where appropriate. Sensitivities relating to derivative financial instruments are included in note A4.