Private Water Supplies - Case Study 2015/03

Case study 3 – Identification of a new Regulation 8 supply, and the need for local authorities and water companies to adopt a joint approach.

In May a local authority in the Midlands became aware that the occupier of a single domestic dwelling in their area served by a borehole had ceased using the water for domestic purposes because they had problems in maintaining it. To maintain a supply to the property, the occupier connected into their neighbour’s mains water supply via their service pipe. This was a verbal arrangement with the owner of the neighbouring industrial unit, such that he would make no charge for the water supplied to the property. In so doing both owners had unknowingly created another private water supply system, subject to and defined by Regulation 8 of the Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009 (2010 in Wales). In these supplies, water originating from a water company’s mains is further distributed by a person other than a water undertaker from a primary premises (in this case, the industrial unit) to a secondary premises (the property that had previously been supplied by a borehole).

Some months after this connection and pipe had been installed, the owner of the secondary premises was taken into hospital, during which time the connection was severed by the owner of the industrial unit, as the water was no longer being used. Seeking to restore the supply, a relative of the owner of the premises then contacted the local authority, who in turn contacted the Inspectorate in their capacity as providers of technical support, for advice on how to proceed.

The Inspectorate advised that in creating the Regulation 8 supply, it was possible that an offence had been committed in that water was being taken unlawfully from the water undertaker, in breach of the Water Supply (Water Fittings) Regulations 1999. They were advised to contact the local water company and to work with them to confirm whether or not the arrangement had constituted a Regulation 8 supply and to put the supply arrangement on a proper legal basis if it was to be reinstated.

The water company carried out an inspection of the supply to check whether or not the connection had bypassed the meter to the industrial unit or not. This confirmed that the connection had been made downstream of meter, i.e. all water being used was accounted for.

The water company confirmed that the Regulation 8 supply could be restored to the property without compromising the water quality or the fittings regulations. However, it soon became apparent that the owner of the industrial unit did not want to reconnect the property to their supply and was not obliged to as no legally-binding agreement relating to the arrangement was ever put in place. The situation remained unchanged until the property on the secondary premises was inherited by the subsequent owner later in 2015. At this time the local authority contacted them to understand what water supply arrangements they intended to put in place to restore a sufficient supply.

The new owner had a geological survey carried out and confirmed there was sufficient yield for a reinstated borehole supply, but by the end of 2015 the property was unoccupied and was still without a water supply. It is essential in these situations that local authorities maintain relevant communications regarding any prospective new supply to ensure that they are kept informed of developments. The revised regulations which came into force in 2016 have sought to plug the previous gap in public health protection for new supplies, making it a requirement to risk assess and monitor them (except to single domestic dwellings not used as part of a commercial activity or provided to the public) as soon as practicable once the local authority becomes aware of them.

This case study illustrates the importance of effective communication between local authorities and water companies when potential Regulation 8 supplies come to light. It is necessary that they work together to verify whether or not Regulation 8 applies and to ensure consumers are protected under the respective regulations they have accountabilities under. It also demonstrates how Regulation 8 supplies arise unknowingly through the illegal actions of property owners seeking to overcome insufficiency on their premises.

Regulation 8 supplies often come to light when consumers report issues of water insufficiency or quality to local authorities, as this case study illustrates. Local authorities should remain vigilant of any similar situations and investigate in a timely manner.