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Private water supplies

A private water supply is usually found in a rural location, sourcing from wells, boreholes, springs or streams rather than a mains supply. In June 2016, new Regulations came into force in England and Wales to regulate public and private water supplies. These are:

  1. The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016;
  2. The Private Water Supplies (England) Regulations 2016; and
  3. The Private Water Supplies (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2016

The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations
These regulations are doing similar things to the Private Water Supplies (England) Regulations (see below) but they do not apply to small suppliers as they are aimed at water undertakers and licensed water suppliers only.

The Private Water Supplies (England) Regulations
These Regulations replace those of 2009 and look to further safeguard public health by ensuring that “supplies are wholesome, meaning safe to drink, and sufficient”. They are fairly similar to the 2009 Regulations but specifically implement an EU Directive about radioactive substances in water by adding in requirements to test for Radon and ensure that it is not present in the water supply.

First, the Regulation categorises private water into four groups:

  1. Single private dwellings.
  2. Small domestic supplies supplying fewer than 50 people.
  3. Large domestic supplies supplying over 50 people or serving commercial premises, including B&B’s food undertakers, dairies and holiday and private tenancies.
  4. Private distribution systems where mains water is used to supply a primary residence, then is further distributed via a private network of distribution pipes to one or more privately owned, secondary premises.

Note private tenancies are categorised in the 3 group as commercial premises. Consequently, in this post we will concentrate on the 3 group.

Risk Assessment
Landlords with private water supplies should contact their local authority because these Regulations require the council to carry out a risk assessment of private water supplies at least once every five years. This involves surveying the supply to identify potential contamination from the source to the property’s tap, identifying possible prevention measures and treatment options.

Under the 3 category, rented properties should be monitored in 2 ways:

  1. Check monitoring ensures the wholesomeness of the water; the frequency of check monitoring will depend on the amount of water used could can be annually and is known as a ‘Regulation 9 sample’.

  2. Audit monitoring determines whether the water supply meets the relevant standards. The range of tests for audit monitoring is extensive and the amount of monitoring depends on the outcome of the risk assessment.

Quality Failure
Quality failures will be investigated by the council to determine the cause of the failure and whether it was caused by the condition of the supply. Council’s will serve a notice requiring remedial action and may prohibit or restrict the use of water if it could be harmful to health. These notices can be appealed in the Magistrates within 28 days of receipt. However, any failure to carry out any remedial action may result in prosecution in either the Magistrates or Crown Court. Fines are unlimited and a prison sentence is possible.

The cost of the risk assessment, sampling and any investigation will need to be met by the landlord. At present the maximum a council can charge for a risk assessment is £500, for sampling £50 + the cost of the analysis and for the investigation a maximum of £100 + the cost of the analysis. There are then further costs for check and audit monitoring.

The Welsh government has stuck with the previous regulation for Wales, Private Water Supplies (Wales) Regulations 2010, and has simply amended these to add in a requirement to deal with radioactive substances. In practice the net effect is fairly similar to the regulations passed for England.

The Regulation will only be relevant to a small number of rural landlords who have properties which are not connected to a mains water supply. Those that are affected will need to take any council notices seriously as the courts take a dim view of the pollution of water supplies and the fine awarded could be substantial particularly if a tenant has been taken ill.

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