18 July 2018

Around 1% of the country relies on private water supplies, with one third of those supplies located in the South West.

The Benefits

Many would extol the virtues of a private water supply. The lower costs, the added control over chemical content, and the exclusion from usage restrictions during droughts all make a private water supply commercially and practically sensible. Above all, the cool, refreshing taste of spring water straight from the tap makes a private water supply one of the joys of country living.

The Disadvantages

Private water supplies are not without their disadvantages. As a private water supply is not maintained in the same way as a public supply, there are often contamination risks. Supplies can become contaminated by deteriorating pipes or from accidental contact with substances used in agriculture. Bacterial infection and contamination are also common problems.

Whilst contamination can sometimes affect appearance or taste, it often goes unnoticed if the supply is not subjected to regular laboratory testing.

If you use a private water supply, or a private water supply originates from your property, you are under a duty to ensure that the water quality is up to standard. Your Local Authority shares that duty, but the Local Authority’s involvement will differ depending on the use to which the water supply is put. If your water supply is to a single private dwelling, the Local Authority will usually only test the supply if requested to do so. In contrast, the Local Authority is obliged to test larger scale water supplies on a regular basis.

Regulations Since the introduction of the Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009, which set the standards for water quality, Local Authorities have had greater powers in relation to private water supplies.

Local Authorities have powers to investigate failures to meet the required standard for water quality. Those powers extend to requiring remedial action by serving notice on the relevant person. Failure to comply can result in works in default or even prosecution.

Landowners who benefit from a private water supply, or who own land from which a private water supply originates, should also consider their potential liability for any illness or harm caused to persons using the water supply.

Despite the potential difficulties involved, with regular testing and careful maintenance a private water supply continues to be a key feature of the rural community. Local Authorities are likely to take an advisory approach seeking to resolve issues informally before taking legal action.

If you would like to understand more about your legal obligations and rights in relation to a private water supply, contact James Owen, Head of Agriculture and Rural Property at Battens Solicitors Limited on 01935 811315 or