Ofwat seeks ‘urgent meeting’ with South East Water over hosepipe ban

Hosepipe ban Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The chief executive of Ofwat has written to a water company asking for an “urgent meeting” because of its hosepipe ban on customers.

David Black said that South East Water's “resilience of supplies is well below what would be expected” of a water company and that he is concerned about restrictions being brought in during the year’s first spell of hot weather.

Burst pipes from freeze-thaw impacted 286,000 properties in December 2022 and the hot weather led to 6,000 properties experiencing interruptions, low pressure or their supply cut off two weeks ago, with some schools forced to close.

As a result, South East Water has introduced a hosepipe ban for its customers in Kent and Sussex, citing an increase in demand.

Some exemptions apply, such as for people with disabilities, though for most people, watering their garden, washing their car or filling up a paddling pool is now prohibited and those breaching the restrictions could face a fine of up to £1,000.

David Black, Ofwat said: "These incidents also took place in the context of South East Water being one of the sector's worst performers with respect to supply interruptions for the last two reporting years"

The company’s chief executive David Hinton claimed in a letter to customers that people working from home since the pandemic is a key factor behind the ban as it has driven up demand for water by around 20%.

He also blamed low rainfall since April, which he said had left water butts empty, as well as a recent spell of hot weather which he said led to a spike in demand for drinking water.

Much of the UK has experienced a similar lack of rain and increased demand though other water companies said their supplies are in good condition and there are no plans to restrict its use.

Hosepipe bans have been imposed in parts of the South East and South West Credit: PA Graphics

Mr Black said South East Water is one of the sector’s worst performers and it needs “transformative change” to be able to provide a level of service that customers deserve.

In a letter to the company board, he said: “I am concerned that the most recent event occurred in the first spell of hot weather this year, and that you experienced similar supply interruptions due to peak demand in July 2022.

“This suggests that the resilience of supplies is well below what would be expected from an essential service provider and that transformative change is required at South East Water to ensure customers receive the levels of service they deserve.

“These incidents also took place in the context of South East Water being one of the sector’s worst performers with respect to supply interruptions for the last two reporting years.”

He said Ofwat has received complaints from customers who did not receive an adequate response from the company over the recent cuts to supply.

Paul Riordan, Southern Water’s head of demand, said: “Our water resources are in a good position, following a relatively wet winter, and we have no plans to impose restrictions on customer use in Kent, Hampshire, Sussex or anywhere else at this time.

“However, as the warm and dry weather continues across our region, we are seeing extremely high demand, so we would urge our customers to use water wisely wherever possible to ensure there remains enough to go around.”

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