It sounds like something out of a bad TV programme - your neighbour spitefully turns your water off because of a petty property dispute over which fence belongs to whom. Or, perhaps your landlord cuts off your supply because you were delayed paying your rent.
As awful as they sound, these scenarios are within the realms of possibility. Whether your landlord cuts off your water over a rent dispute; you have a grudge with your neighbours; or your water company restricts your supply; it’s important you know your rights.
After all, being without water for showering, heating your home and cooking is not a pleasant experience.
We’ve written this guide to help you understand if it is illegal for anyone, be it the water company or a neighbour, to cut off someones water supply.
Whether a neighbour can cut off your water
How long your water can be off under the law
What to do when your water is switched off
If you can take legal action when your neighbour turns off your water
Is it illegal to cut off water supply in the UK?
No, it isn't illegal to cut off a water supply, however a landlord or water company can only cut off your water supply when they are carrying out repair works and in the case of emergencies like a burst water pipe.
Let’s start with landlords - for renters, your landlord can only turn off your water supply when plumbing, building or when repair works need to be carried out, and they must give you notice first. Landlords should know that cutting off a tenants’ water supply without notifying them may be classed as harassment. If you are a landlord, ensure you know exactly what you are responsible for.
So, what about the water company? Well, the water industry is regulated by the Water Industry Act 1991. This act governs the provision of water supply and sewerage services. The regulatory framework established by this act ensures the proper functioning of water companies and aims to protect the interests of consumers, including homeowners.
In short, they are duty bound to provide you with a constant supply of water. If they turn your water off without letting you know that a planned service interruption is upcoming, you could be entitled to compensation.
Here’s what the law says about planned interruptions:
You must be given 48 hours written notice if there’s a planned interruption lasting more than 4 hours
Your water company must resupply your water by the time stated in the planned interruption notice
You’re entitled to £20 compensation if they fail to restore the supply when stated
You’re also entitled to £20 compensation if you weren’t given 48 hours’ notice
If compensation isn’t forthcoming within 20 days, you’re entitled to an additional £20
A water company also cannot disconnect your water supply if you owe them money. If you need support paying your water bill, Citizens Advice have compiled some guidance.
Can a neighbour turn off my water supply?
There’s plenty of news stories and hot air surrounding this question.
Whilst plausibly a neighbour might be physically able to turn off your water supply, they aren't allowed to without your permission.
So, is it legal for your neighbour to turn off your water supply? No - it isn't legal if they haven't had your permission! You are legally entitled to an ongoing supply of water.
Practically, if your house has a stopcock, sometimes called a stop tap, a tap which controls the entire supply of mains-fed water in your home, and it is external to your property, a neighbour could shut it off if they know where it is.
Generally, the water mains leading to your property will by owned and maintained by your water company. In most cases, your water supply will be connected to the mains by a private pipe, and therefore a neighbour won’t be able to cut off your water.
However, if your water pipe is in someone else’s land, you will need their permission to carry out repairs, or move the pipe. If they want to perform repairs, they need to let you know in writing.
Older houses may be on a shared pipe, so if you need to pause the water supply to carry out repairs yourself, you will need to get your neighbours’ permission.
How long can you legally be left without water?
The longest you can be left without water legally is 48 hours. It doesn’t make a difference who cut off your water supply.
So, if your landlord or water supplier hasn’t turned your water supply back on after 48 hours, you can take action. Remember, if your water supplier doesn’t turn your supply back on by the time they say they will, you can claim compensation.
What to do if your water supply is cut off?
As a tenant, it is a good idea to understand your rights.
If your landlord has restricted your water out of malice or as an underhanded tactic to pressure you to pay overdue rent, you should start by referring to your contract which should mention your right to running water.
If they don’t back down, you can engage a legal expert.
If you don’t know why your supply isn’t working and you know your landlord hasn’t done it, your first port of call is to get in touch with your water company.
They’ll guide you through a quick investigation, and if they’ve turned it off, they’ll be able to tell you why. It might be that they don’t have the right contact details for you, and they had tried to inform you.
If your water supplier has turned off your supply and you’ve not had water for 12 hours, the supplier should give you an alternative supply, typically bottled water, or give you access to a mobile water tank (bowser) near your home.
They must give you 10 litres of water per person within the first 24 hours and continue to do so on the same schedule until the water is turned back on.
Legal recourse if a neighbour turns off your water
If your neighbour turns your water supply off during a dispute, you may need to take the matter to court.
First, try to seek a resolution - engage a solicitor to send your neighbour a letter reminding them of your legal right to water and the consequences under the law of withholding your water, should you make a case against them at court.
If things do escalate, you can take the matter to court. You can take out an injunction against your neighbour in the County Court. If you win your case, your neighbour will be ordered rectification or to pay damages.
You will have to pay your legal costs, but if you win you will be awarded these as part of the settlement.
Get quick legal support to get your water flowing again
When your water has been turned off, you don’t have much time to lose. So, you’ll be relieved to know how quickly we get to work on your behalf. Our free case assessment takes only 5 minutes and one of our specialist legal experts can begin work on your case within 24 hours.
For specialist help on property law relating to your water supply, please get in touch with our legal assessment team. Our UK based expert lawyers and solicitors are on hand to provide quick legal help and support at fixed fee prices.