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Watchdog calls for more urgency in tackling water supply disruption and leakage

More than three billion litres of water was lost through leaky pipework in 2018/19 Photo: PA

Disruption to domestic water supplies has risen by a fifth in two years, leading to a watchdog to call on suppliers to do “much more” to protect customers.

Consumers were left without water for an average of 13 minutes and 14 seconds in 2018/19, a significant fall on the previous year when the results were skewed by the widespread disruption during and after the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, according to the Consumer Council for Water’s (CCWater) annual report.

However, the losses were still 21.8% higher than two years ago, with eight companies falling short of their targets.

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CCWater said the figures raised questions over whether some companies were in a stronger position to deal with any repeat of the severe cold weather and rapid thaw, which left thousands of customers without water.

The report also shows that the industry lost 3.16 billion litres of water through leaky pipework in 2018/19 – a fall of 0.2%.

Three water companies – Thames Water, Affinity Water and Hafren Dyfrdwy – failed to meet their leakage targets.

CCWater said it was concerned that the industry’s slow overall progress could lessen individuals’ motivation to save water and raised doubts that some companies would be able to achieve tougher targets set by regulator Ofwat as part of the current price-setting process for 2020 to 2025.

Bristol Water was the industry’s best performer, losing an average of 71 litres per property per day.

Thames Water, which reported the highest levels of leakage, lost 177 litres per property per day.

People’s consumption of water has increased for a fourth consecutive year, with the average person using 143 litres a day in 2018/19, up from 141 litres in the previous 12 months, the latest figures show.

CCWater senior policy manager Karen Gibbs said: “It’s clear that some companies still need to do much more when it comes to reducing supply interruptions and curbing leakage, which can damage people’s perceptions of the industry and deter them from saving water themselves.

“Being left without water causes huge inconvenience to people and can be extremely isolating for the most vulnerable customers.”

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “While this report shows a disappointing overall increase in supply interruptions, Ofwat’s publication of draft determinations for 2020-2025 indicates that on the whole, water companies have strengthened their commitment to ensuring a continuity of supply for their customers.

“We welcome the reduction in water leakages, but we will continue to work closely with Ofwat to hold water companies to account for the delivery of secure and resilient water services, expecting them to deliver greater reductions in leakage long term.”