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 Northumbrian Water’s failure to adequately consult with the complainant and the inconvenience caused to the complainant by Northumbrian Water when carrying out work on the complainant’s land.
We determined that there were three failures by Northumbrian Water:
- two failures due to not providing the complainant with information which it had a right to expect under Northumbrian Water’s Code of Practice for Pipelaying; and
- one failure due to not consulting with the customer, causing them a loss.
As a result of the above failures, we determined that Northumbrian Water should make a payment of £700 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
7 December 2017
8 June 2018
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