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Government consults on leaking pipes: who should plug the hole?

Despite it being one of the wettest springs on record, leaking water pipes are a serious concern.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reports that there is currently a high level of leakage of water from private supply pipes (308 Olympic sized swimming pools worth per day) and that inadequately maintained pipes have an impact on water quality. It also states that there is a general lack of public understanding over the ownership and responsibility for water supply pipes.  To tackle the problem, Defra has recently published a consultation paper on the future management of private water supply pipes.

Properties are typically connected to the water mains via supply pipes, and those parts of the pipes that run from the boundary of a property to the point where they emerge within the property or building are generally privately owned. Private owners rather than water companies are therefore typically responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of such supply pipes and insure against damage caused by water egress. 

Defra proposes that water companies should adopt certain water supply pipes. Ownership of and responsibility for such supply pipes would then be transferred from private owners to the water supply companies. It is not clear whether there will be any distinction between domestic and non-domestic property.

Defra is of the view that the proposed measures will not only reduce water leakage and improve water quality but also address the current uncertainty as to supply pipe ownership and responsibility and reduce one-off repair costs for private owners. However, it acknowledges that repair costs incurred by water companies would be passed on to consumers via water bills. It also acknowledges the impact on property ownership and the implications for utility companies’ rights of works and entry. Despite this, Defra does not believe that the proposals would necessitate any changes to building standards or practice on pipe laying that would affect developers.

The consultation (which can be viewed here) closes on 4 July and Defra intends to publish a response within 12 weeks of that date. We will provide an update once the response is published, so watch this space…