Private Water Supplies - Case Study

The Inspectorate’s powers and remit with regard private water supplies

In November 2022 the Chief Inspector of Drinking Water received an email from an individual wishing to report the poor quality and insufficiency of the private water serving his family in a single property. The matter initially arose in February 2022 as a result of insufficiency following storm Eunice whereupon it was discovered that the house was served by a borehole as a private water supply. Reinstatement of the borehole supply resulted in discoloured water. 

As with a number of cases received by the Inspectorate over the years, the matter of wholesomeness and sufficiency of private water supplies is often complex and interwoven with other difficulties. This case study is no exception as they were included in a wider issue about the rental of the property and the relationship with the landlord which had broken down and was compounded by the threat of eviction.  

This case was unusual in that the correspondent contacted the Chief Inspector directly rather than the Inspectorate’s general enquiries email. This case was however not unusual in that it reflects a common misunderstanding of the Inspectorate’s role with respect to private water supplies. The Water Industry Act 1991 (The Act) of which The Private Water Supply (England) Regulations 2016, (The Regulations), set out the duties of a local authority and the circumstances and way these duties must be carried out. The duties of the Drinking Water Inspectorate are that it provides a technical and practical interpretation of the Regulations and the Act to assist local authorities in exercising powers conferred to them, and duties required of them by the legislation. It is the duty of local authorities as the regulator under the Regulations to exercise those powers, not the Inspectorate. 

It was clear that the private water supply did not meet the requirements set out in the relevant regulations, and as part of the role of the Inspectorate to oversee the appropriate application of the private water supplies regulations, it contacted the local authority handling this case for the purposes of clarifying information. This showed that the tenant had notified the local authority of the problem. The local authority had taken appropriate action by carrying out a risk assessment and properly served a regulation 18 notice on the landlords. There was no subsequent appeal by the landlord and together with the information provided, it was concluded that the local authority had met its duties as required by the legislation. Consequently, no further action was necessary or indeed appropriate. 

This case study demonstrates the complexity of dealing with private water supplies which are often not about the supply but other matters. It also demonstrates the professional approach by local authorities who can be misrepresented when an outcome is not in favour of a complainant. An understanding of the complexity of the Regulations, whose responsibilities lay where and why, but most importantly, good communication between the Inspectorate and local authorities are all essential for a successful investigation, root cause analysis, and resolution. 

As an addendum to this, it is worth emphasising that areas which are not within the Inspectorate’s remit include; the provision of legal advice on civil matters that arise from disagreements between parties in dispute over private water supplies; the granting of monitoring exemptions, and or derogations from the regulations; endorsement or the recommendation of water treatment products or their retailers.