Rise in home working to blame as new hosepipe ban introduced, water firm says
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Working from home has been blamed as the reason for introducing a new hosepipe ban in south east England.
South East Water is imposing its first hosepipe ban of the summer from Monday (26 June), meaning households across Kent and Sussex will not be able to use hosepipes or sprinklers to water gardens, wash cars or fill up paddling pools.
The chief executive of Ofwat, David Black, has written to the water firm asking for an “urgent meeting” because of its hosepipe ban. He said that “resilience of supplies is well below what would be expected” and he is concerned about restrictions being brought in during the year’s first spell of hot weather.
He added that South East Water is one of the sector’s worst performers and it needs “transformative change”.
South East Water’s chief executive, David Hinton, said that people working from home was a “key factor” behind the ban as it has led to an “increased drinking water demand”.
In a letter to customers, he wrote: “Over the past three years the way in which drinking water is being used across the south-east has changed considerably. The rise of working from home has increased drinking water demand in commuter towns by around 20% over a very short period, testing our existing infrastructure.
“Our reservoir and aquifer stocks of raw water, essential to our water supply but not ready to be used, are in a good position. However, demand for treated mains water, which takes time to process and deliver, was greater than we could meet.
“Over the past week we have needed to find water to supply the equivalent of an additional four towns the size of Maidstone or Eastbourne, every day.”
Jutta Wrobel, 61, an artist in the village of Wadhurst, East Sussex, has started an online petition demanding a change of ownership of South East Water after she was left without mains water for five days earlier this month.
She said the water company is “victim-blaming” which “has riled people up” and Mr Hinton’s statement is “not a suitable response”.
She said: “This is a deflection from the real issue which is how to stop South East Water paying away all our money in dividends rather than reinvesting in our water infrastructure, which is a public utility and a human right.”
“The barrage of victim-blaming by South East Water is what I think has riled people up. I’m interested in what the regulator is doing about it and whether there will be meaningful sanctions imposed on South East Water.”
A spokesperson for water regulator Ofwat told The Times that South East Water “must do better to predict and manage operational issues, help customers, and engage with them on what is happening and why.”
The spokesperson added: “Customers will be asking why, for the second time in six months, their water company is being caught out by the weather.”
In a statement, South East Water’s head of service management Steve Andrews said: “The restrictions have been introduced to ensure that we can deliver drinking water to all our customers consistently.
“We want to thank our customers for being mindful of their water use and remind them to continue to use water wisely.”