Hosepipe bans – what’s the law?

The long, hot summer has been welcomed by the vast majority of the country, even though there are some potentially challenging side-effects to such a protracted dry spell. A number of regions around the UK have had a hosepipe ban already put in place and more still are facing the possibility of having to watch what they water. Here, we take a look at what the legal implications of such bans are, and how they could affect you.

What is a hosepipe ban?

A hosepipe ban can be put in place by any organisation responsible for water provision to households across the UK. As different regions are supplied by different providers, this means that one area of the country can have a ban in place, while others are free to continue using their hoses without restrictions.

The ban itself covers ‘non-essential’ water use. This includes using hosepipes to water gardens, wash cars, fill swimming pools, fountains, or ponds, and clean windows, pathways, and outdoor decking. The water provider can extend the ban to all of these activities, or limit a certain few. On announcing the ban, water providers should detail which activities are banned and the precise time at which the ban will come into effect.

What can you use?

Though watering the garden and washing the car with a hosepipe are banned, homeowners can continue performing these tasks, as long as they do so without utilising a hose. For instance, gardeners can tend to their garden with a watering can filled from a short hose, or wash their car using a bucket and sponge.

With hosepipe bans, the emphasis is on reducing water consumption to ensure that demand can be met. This means limiting waste and reducing the amount of water used for non-essential purposes. Though hosepipes are useful, they are an inefficient means of water delivery and their use typically results in large quantities of water being wasted.

What’s the punishment for breaking the ban?

Hosepipe bans are legally enforceable and breach of the ban conditions can carry hefty penalties. Those caught breaking the ban can be fined up to £1000. However, the likelihood of being fined for a breach varies from area to area, depending on the attitude of the local authorities and water providers.

The recent hosepipe ban in Northern Ireland saw approximately 140 households being reported for breaking the hosepipe ban, all of which were approached by NI Water in order to discuss the importance of the ban, why it’s in force, and why water rationing is necessary. No further action was taken against these 140 households, though there is no guarantee that this softer approach will be pursued in other areas of the UK.

Why are hosepipe bans put in place?

Hosepipe bans are put in place during periods in which low rainfall, dry conditions, or other natural or man-made phenomenon threaten water reserves. Hosepipe bans are not necessarily an indication that water reserves are dangerously low and can be used as a precaution to ensure that sufficient reserves exist to see the local area through a dry period. The bans are a means of regulating non-essential water usage and households can continue to utilise water for more essential purposes as they see fit.

That being said, water providers can request that homeowners begin to consider other types of water usage and attempt to reduce them. For instance, some companies may suggest that homeowners begin taking short showers and try to limit the number of baths they take – though this advice is not legally enforceable.

The legislation

Hosepipe bans, as well as the punishments associated with breaching any ban, are covered by the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. This is an extension of previous water management legislation and gives utility companies the power to put bans in place and sets out the punishment for any breach of the ban.

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