Water shortages - restrictions to your supply

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

Your water company must provide a constant supply of water. Occasionally, the service may be restricted due to water shortages in your area.

Read this page to find out when a water company is allowed to restrict your water supply, how long this can last, and what your rights are when this happens.

Temporary hosepipe bans

All water companies can impose a ban or restriction on the use of hosepipes and sprinklers in their area if there is a serious shortage of water. These bans or restrictions must be approved by the government.

The company must give notice of the ban or restriction in local newspapers. If you use a hosepipe or sprinkler during a ban or restriction, you may be committing a criminal offence and could be fined.

Some companies may allow exceptions to a ban or restriction, for example if you’re elderly or disabled. Ask your company about this.

Drought orders

If there is still a water shortage after a hosepipe ban has been imposed, a water company can apply to the government for a drought order.

There are two kinds of drought order:

  • an ordinary drought order limits the use of water for specific activities – for example no car washing or watering gardens. These drought orders can be for six months or less, and can be extended up to a year

  • an emergency drought order limits the supply of water and makes alternative arrangements for the supply of water, for example by erecting a stand pipe in the street.  These drought orders are for three months or less and can be extended up to a further two months.

Drought orders must be advertised in a local paper and explain that objections can be made to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or National Assembly for Wales.

If your supply is cut off due to an emergency drought order, you may be able to claim compensation.

If you break a drought order, for example by using a sprinkler, you may be committing a criminal offence and could be fined.

Next steps

Other useful information

If your water supply is restricted because of a drought order, check how much compensation you might get on the OFWAT website. The information is near the bottom of the page.

Check which water company supplies your area on the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) website.

If you need more help, contact the CCW on their website

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Page last reviewed on 24 February 2020