It is estimated by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) that across England and Wales, about 1% of properties are served by private water supplies.  This issue is most commonly found in rural areas.  The source of a private supply can be a well, borehole, spring, stream, river or lake and it can also involve storage structures or tanks. Private supplies can serve just a single property or it can be much larger serving many properties and businesses through a network of pipes.

The primary national legislation that defines the powers and responsibilities of local authorities in relation to private water supplies is the Water Industry Act 1991.  In addition private water supplies for human consumption are subject in England to the Private Water Supplies Regulations 2016 and the Private Water Supplies (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (effective from 27 June 2016 and 11 July 2018); and in Wales to the Private Water Supplies (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 and The Private Water Supplies (Wales) Regulations 2017 (effective from  27 June 2016 and 20 November 2017 respectively).  These regulations derived from the European Union Drinking Water Directive (Council Directive 98/83/EC)

If the supply is to a single dwelling and used for domestic purposes only, then the regulations do not require a risk assessment or sampling unless although this is recommended to ensure the purity and sufficiency of the supply.

If the supply is shared between two or more properties then the local authority are required to risk assess the supply and monitor it by sampling at an appropriate frequency. Risk assessments and ongoing monitoring consider the source of the supply, the surrounding area, water storage tank and treatment, right through to the taps, to identify any actual or potential contamination in order to determine compliance with drinking water standards.

The local authority has powers under the Regulations to require that a supply is improved by:

  • The owner or occupier of the premises supplied;

  • The owner or occupier of the source of the supply; and

  • Any other person who exercises powers of management or control over the source.

In the event the relevant person fails to carry out the improvement works in accordance with the local authority’s action plan, local authorities must use enforcement powers to ensure the supply meets the requirements of the Regulations, including carrying the works out themselves at the cost of the relevant person.

The DWI provides independent reassurance that public water supplies in England & Wales are safe and drinking water quality is acceptable to consumers.  It has a statutory role to act as technical and scientific advisor to local authorities on all aspects of drinking water quality, including the implementation of the regulations.

If you are selling or buying a property with a private water supply, you should inform your conveyancer at the earliest possible opportunity as it will impact on the information they will require either from you in the case of being a seller or the seller’s conveyancer in the case of being the buyer.

Farleys’ property law specialists can advise on buying or selling a property with a private water supply. Call the team today on 0845 287 0939 or contact us online.