StockMarketWire.com - Water utility United Utilities booked a 71% fall in annual profit weighed down by charges related to the Covid-19 crisis.

The company nevertheless lifted its dividend for the year to 42.6p per share, up 3.2% on-year, including a final payout of 28.4p.

Pre-tax profit for the year through March dropped to £106.8m, down from £363.4m on-year.

Revenue rose 2.2% to £1.86bn and underlying profit rose 5% to £430m.

United Utilities said of the exceptional charges, £83m related to the accelerated depreciation of its Bioresources assets, that had been taken out of use.

A further £56m relate to costs associated with COVID-19 and of this, £32m represented the company's share of such losses at Water Plus and a further £5m of expected credit losses at that business.

The remaining £19m of COVID-19 items related to an increased bad debt charge recognising the higher risk of future non-payment of household customer bills.

A further adjusted item of £158m relates to a change in the company;s approach used to 'derive our underlying profit measures to exclude the impact of deferred tax to better reflect the regulatory revenue allowances'.

United Utilities said the dividend increased reflected its performance in the year and across AMP6 regulatory period more generally.

It added that it was too early to predict the full impact of the pandemic on inflation, the economy more generally and its business. 'We will review our dividend policy for AMP7 as a clearer picture of the post Covid-19 economic environment emerges,' the company said.

Chief executive Steve Mogford said the crisis was an unprecedented challenge for the UK.

'At United Utilities, we have focused relentlessly on supporting customers and colleagues through these difficult times.'

'We offer the sector's widest range of assistance schemes to help those struggling to pay their bills and have increased the number of customers eligible for reduced tariffs.'

'We have also made £3.5m available immediately to those most in need, with £71m committed to help customers over the next five years.'

'We can reflect on our performance improvements across the last five year price review period with pride.'

'We have shared £350m of our outperformance through additional investment, providing better service to customers and enhancing the environment.'

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