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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 problems with your public water supply. 

Scottish Water’s service standards

You can read Scottish Water's 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. It's the job of the Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR) to make sure that water is always at the required quality. If Scottish Water fails to keep the quality at the required standard, the DWQR can take enforcement action against Scottish Water or, in extreme cases, recommend that the company is prosecuted.

Contaminated water

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

Scottish Water carries out tests on water all the time to demonstrate that it's 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. You can find further independent advice about water quality on the DWQR website.

If you've been having problems with contaminated water for a while, for example because 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 local problems.

If you can't use your water for more than 13 hours because of contamination, you can ask Scottish Water for an alternative supply.

Don't drink any water that you're unsure of. If you're concerned about your water, boil it and buy bottled water for drinking. Check with your doctor if your health is affected. Also check with Scottish Water to see if they've issued a public notice regarding your local water supplies. They may already be supplying bottled water to your area.

If you want to complain about the quality of your drinking water supply, you should follow Scottish Water's formal complaints 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've been made ill by contaminated water and you want to sue for negligence, you'll need legal advice about taking action for a personal injury.

Lead in water

Lead doesn't occur naturally in significant concentrations in Scotland's water supplies. The problem arises when drinking water comes into contact with lead supply pipes, lead tanks, lead solder joints on copper pipes or low-quality brass fittings and taps. This can result in high lead levels.

You can read about the health effects of exposure to lead on the NHS inform website.

Some old properties still have lead tanks, and a few have lead pipes. If you're worried about lead in your water supply, you can get the water checked by your local authority environmental health department. If there's lead piping in the property and it's 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's too much lead in your water and it's in the piping from the boundary of your property to the public water main, this is the responsibility of Scottish Water and they will have to replace the piping.

Water hardness

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 rainwater 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.

Water hardness is important because it's 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. This can be treated with anti-limescale products.

If you're worried about the hardness of your water from the public supply, you should contact Scottish Water. You can phone the customer helpline on 08000 778 778.

Fluoride in water

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

Making a complaint

If you're unhappy with the way Scottish Water handled your complaint about water quality, you can make another complaint.

Interruptions to the public water supply

Sometimes the water supply to your home has to be turned off. Interruptions can be planned or unplanned.

Planned interruption

If the interruption of the water supply has been planned by Scottish Water and will mean that water is turned off for four hours or more, you should be told at least 48 hours in advance that it's being turned off. Scottish Water may send you a letter or have a news item in the press or on TV 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. This 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 08000 778 778.

Medical needs

If 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

If Scottish Water is worried that the main reservoirs are low, it can impose a hosepipe ban to make sure that the domestic water supply doesn't run out. A hosepipe ban doesn't mean that you can't use water to water the garden or wash your car. It means that you shouldn't leave your sprinkler on, as this could waste water.

If you ignore a hosepipe ban once, you're 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.

Water pressure

If you're unhappy with your water pressure, Scottish Water can test what's happening to your water flow. You can phone the customer helpline on 08000 778 778. Scottish Water is likely to know if there are pressure problems with the public water supply in your area. If your area doesn't have problems and the issue seems to be in your own property, you may need to call out a local plumber to check this and solve the problem. If the problem is only in your property, you'll 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're entitled to a rebate of your water charge from Scottish Water for as long as you're on the register.

Extra help for disabled people

If you're disabled, you can add your details to a confidential Scottish Water register to ensure you get the help you need. You can call the customer helpline on 08000 778 778 to ask for your details to be added to the register.

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