Complaint against Southern Water about work on private land


Case number


Summary of case

This dispute was referred to us for determination under section 181 of the Water Industry Act 1991. This section deals with complaints about how water and sewerage companies exercise their powers when they carry out work on private land.

Summary of Ofwat’s final decision

The complaint was about whether Southern Water failed to adequately consult with the complainants and also whether Southern Water caused inconvenience to the complainants when working at the property.

In summary, we determined that Southern Water did cause inconvenience to the Complainants. This is because they failed to communicate effectively and punctually with the complainants in their management of the works on private land. We also determined that Southern Water adequately consulted with the complainants.

We considered whether Southern Water should pay the complainants compensation in recognition of the above failure. We concluded, however, that as Southern Water had already paid £225 to the complainants in recognition of its failure, no further compensation should be paid.

Wider lessons for companies and customers

Water companies have the power to lay, inspect, maintain and repair or alter any pipes falling on private land. This power is exceptional and very few companies or bodies outside of the utility industry are permitted to do this. It is a power that must be exercised responsibly as customers can perceive it as being invasive.

We expect water companies to exercise their powers in accordance with the Act and in a manner which does not result in the land owner sustaining any loss or damage.

Beyond what we have set out above, we also expect companies to:

  • Have a Code of Practice which sets out how they will operate when working in private land. We expect companies to follow their Code of Practice and any instances where they do not will be factored into our future decisions; and
  • Maintain contact, and consult, with customers before, and throughout, the period of work.

When the above powers, especially the latter, are exercised poorly, they can severely undermine customer’s trust in their water and wastewater provider.

Relevant powers

Sections 159 and 181 of the Water Industry Act 1991

Relevant Ofwat guidance

Work on private land

Date opened

7 June 2019

Date closed

22 November 2019

Key documents

Final determination 


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