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Problems with public water quality and supply

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only

On this page you can find out what to do about a number of problems relating to your public water supply. 

Scottish Water’s service standards

Scottish Water has published its service standards, code of practice and customer charter on the Scottish Water website. The customer charter Google Drive  has a summary of Scottish Water’s service standards with your rights, and what happens if Scottish Water doesn’t keep its promises to you. This includes more detailed answers to these problems, some emergency phone numbers, information about compensation amounts, and if you have to apply or payment is made automatically.

Public water supply

Scottish Water is responsible for making sure that drinking water from the public water supply meets the standards set in regulations (legal note 1). It is the job of the Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR) to make sure that it is always at the required quality. If Scottish Water fails to keep the quality at the required standard the Drinking Water Quality Regulator can take enforcement action against Scottish Water, or, in extreme cases, recommend that the company is prosecuted.

Contaminated water

If you are worried that your water supply is contaminated, for example, because it looks, smells or tastes unusual you must get in touch with Scottish Water to enable them to take samples and investigate. If you are concerned that the water is making you ill, which is very unlikely, you should also go to see your doctor.

Tests are being done to water all the time by Scottish Water to demonstrate that it is safe and meets the required standard. Information about water quality in your area, as well as current known service problems is available on the Scottish Water website. Further independent advice about water quality is available on the Drinking Water Quality Regulator's (DWQR) website.

If you have been having problems with contaminated water for a while, because, for example, there was flooding and the supply was disrupted, you might find a local campaign group helpful. Your local authority environmental health department can provide information about progress on any local problems.

If you are not able to use your water, because of contamination, for more than 13 hours you can ask Scottish Water for an alternative supply.

On a practical level do not drink any water that you are unsure of. Boil all water and buy bottled water for drinking. Check with your GP if your health is affected. Check also with Scottish Water to see if they have already issued a public notice regarding your local water supplies. It may already be supplying bottled water to your area.

If you want to make a complaint about the quality of your drinking water supply you should follow Scottish Water's formal complaint's process in the first instance. If you remain dissatisfied the DWQR may be able to help. Check the website or phone 0131 244 0190.

If you think you have been made ill by contaminated water and you want to sue for negligence you will need legal advice about taking action for a personal injury.

Lead in water

Lead does not occur naturally in significant concentrations in our water supplies. The problem arises when drinking water comes into contact with lead supply pipes, lead tanks, lead solder joints on copper pipes or inferior quality brass fittings and taps. This can result in high lead levels.

Information on the health effects of exposure to lead can be found on the NHS Inform website.

Some old properties still have lead tanks and a few have lead pipes. If you are worried about lead being in your water supply you can get the water checked by your local authority environmental health department. If there is lead piping and it is within the property and is your responsibility you may have to replace it. You might be eligible for a grant or loan from your local authority through their scheme of assistance.

 If there is too much lead in your water and it is in the piping from the boundary of your property to the public water main this is the responsibility of Scottish Water and it will have to replace the piping. 

Hardness of the water

The hardness of water in the public supply is due to the amount of calcium and magnesium salts in the water. These salts usually come from the rain water in the system but in Scotland chalk and limestone are less common than in the rest of the UK so water in the public supply from Scottish Water is usually described as 'soft' water. The reason the hardness of the water is important is because it is more difficult to make a good lather from soap in 'hard' water. Tap water whether hard or soft is fine to drink. In hard water areas limescale can build up on kettles and some appliances like dishwashers. These can be treated with anti-limescale products.

If you are worried about the hardness of your water from the public supply you should contact Scottish Water. You can phone the Customer Helpline on 0800 0778778.

Fluoride in water

In some areas fluoride may be added to the water supply to improve dental health. It is normally the local health board that asks for this to be done but Scottish Water would have to agree. To date, there is no addition of fluoride to water in Scotland.

Make a complaint

If you are unhappy with the way Scottish Water handled your complaint about the water quality you can make a complaint.

Interruptions to the water supply from Scottish Water

Sometimes the water supply to your home has to be turned off.

Planned interruption

If the interruption of the water supply has been planned by Scottish Water and is going to mean that water is off for 4 hours or more you should be told at least 48 hours in advance that it is being turned off. Scottish Water may send you a letter or have a news item in the press or television to let you know.

Unplanned interruption

Your water supply might have to be turned off because of an emergency. In these situations Scottish Water must provide you with an alternative supply if the water is off for 12 hours or more.

Compensation claims for interrupted supply

If Scottish Water fails to let you know about the interruption to your supply you may be entitled to compensation under certain circumstances. It may be paid automatically, or you may have submit a complaint using a form on the Scottish Water website or by calling their Customer Helpline on 0800 0778778.

Medical needs

When an interruption of water supply is going to seriously affect someone in your home because of their medical condition or other special need you can contact Scottish Water about how to minimise the effect of the interruption.

Hosepipe bans

When Scottish Water is worried that the main reservoirs are low it can impose a hosepipe ban to make sure that the domestic water supply does not run out. A hosepipe ban does not mean that you can’t use water to water the garden or wash your car. It means that you should not be leaving your sprinkler on for any length of time as it will potentially waste water.

If you ignore a hosepipe ban once you are likely to get a warning. However, if you carry on ignoring it you can be charged with an offence and fined up to £1,000 (legal note 2).

Water pressure

If you are unhappy with your water pressure Scottish Water can test what is happening to your water flow. You can phone the Customer helpline 0800 0778778. Scottish Water is likely to know if there are pressure problems with the public water supply in your area. If your area does not have problems and the problem seems to be in your own property you may need to call out a local plumber to verify this and solve the problem. When the problem is only in your property you will have to pay for any work done to solve it.

If your water pressure is low you may be put on a Low Pressure Register. If your property is on the register you are entitled to a rebate of your water charge from Scottish Water for as long as you are on the register.

Service standards from Scottish Water

Scottish Water has produced information explaining what standards it aims to meet and what rebates you can claim or get automatically if it fails to meet these standards

Extra help for people with a disability: Additional Support Register

Scottish Water has a special confidential register that you can place your name and details on to ensure that get the help you need. You can call the Customer Helpline on 0800 0778778 to ask for your details to be added to the register.

Legal notes

1 Water Services (Scotland) Act 2002

2 Water Industry Act 1991, section 76

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