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 Thames Water’s failure to adequately consult with the complainant and the inconvenience caused to the complainant by Thames Water when carrying out work on the complainant’s land.
We determined that there were two failures by Thames Water:
- Thames Water failed to give adequate notice to the customer before carrying out works on private land; and
- Caused inconvenience to the customer in doing these works.
As a result of the above failures, we determined that that the compensation offered by Thames Water of £540 was sufficient and that no further compensation was due to the complainant.
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 Water Industry Act 1991 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 exercising these powers, clear and appropriate communication with the person on whose land work is taking place is essential, and key to preventing problems from arising from these works.
When the above powers are exercised poorly, they can severely undermine customer’s trust in their water and wastewater provider.
Sections 159 and 181 of the Water Industry Act 1991
Relevant Ofwat guidance
24 October 2018
4 February 2019
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