Most water companies have never prosecuted anyone for breaching rules

Most of England’s major water companies have never prosecuted anyone for breaching a hosepipe ban, and I can reveal.

Millions of people are now living under hosepipe bans as the UK battles against one of the worst droughts in living memory.

Bans in more areas are expected to be enacted in the coming days, after water companies were instructed to enact their drought action plans on Friday.

But doubts have been raised about how effectively water companies are enforcing water restrictions.

Hosepipe bans are legally enforceable under the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which replaced earlier legislation introduced in 1991. Those found breaching the rules can be prosecuted through the criminal courts and fined up to £1,000.

Water companies have announced dozens of hosepipe bans across the country over the last 30 years, including restrictions in 2012 and 2018 as well as this year.

But eight of the largest water companies say they have no record of ever prosecuting a customer for breaking hosepipe rules.

Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent water, South West Water, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, South East Water, United Utilities and SES Water all told and they had not prosecuted anyone. United Utilities has also previously admitted to having zero prosecutions.

Wessex Water said they had not implemented a hosepipe ban since 1976, and therefore had not prosecuted anyone since then.

Southern Water said the information would only be released under Environmental Information Regulations, and United Utilities said they could not provide details on prosecutions because its legal team was on annual leave.

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Many of the water companies said they prefer to persuade customers to comply with a ban, rather than prosecuting.

“Our preference is always to seek to have a calm and sensible discussion, either in writing or in person, with anyone who appears to be breaking the rules – explaining the need to protect essential supplies for everyone,” a spokesperson for Thames Water said.

A spokesperson for Yorkshire Water said: “We do have the power to enforce the ban and have a process to deal with those breaching it. We would prefer not to have to use this and would hope customers will continue to work with us and respect the ban, recognizing it’s been put in place to protect essential supplies.”

The average hosepipe uses 170 liters of water for every 10 minutes that it is turned on – equivalent to flushing a toilet 19 times in 10 minutes. The average UK person uses 142 liters of water every day, one of the highest rates in Europe. As the UK population grows and summers become hotter and longer due to climate change, water supplies are expected to face increasing pressure.

Nathan Richardson is head of policy at Waterwise, a charity that works to reduce household water consumption. He said hosepipe bans are needed to “send a clear signal that we need to be using water carefully”.

“In terms of enforcement I imagine a hosepipe ban may be hard to enforce but it would be disappointing if companies aren’t even trying to enforce the bans when they declare them,” he said.

However, he pointed out that warning notices and home visits may be enough to change household behavior.

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