Running water is something we take for granted in the UK, but with recent water shortages affecting many areas of the country, is that set to change? And do you know your rights when your supply is cut off?
Last weekend, my house was one of more than 20,000 households in London left without water. Temperature changes in the aftermath of Storm Emma and the Beast from the East caused frozen water pipes to thaw and then burst, leading to multiple leaks and drained reservoirs.
For three days, we relied on the few bottles of mineral water we could grab from the supermarket (most had run out) to drink, wash and cook with.
When we first discovered the problem on Saturday evening, we checked Twitter to see if anyone else was having water issues. Sure enough, there were hundreds of frustrated tweets from people in the same boat.
As you’d expect, most of the online frustration was directed at Thames Water, which serves more than nine million homes across London and the Thames Valley.
Many people, including me and my housemates, were wondering how long we should expect to be without running water: how long would it be before we could flush the loo again? What about washing? And when could we fill the kettle again to make a cup of tea?
No news is not good
Thames Water did not provide the answers we were looking for.
In fact, the lack of communication from the water company only added to the frustration. Phone lines were jammed and the social media team gave ambiguous, non-answers that served to infuriate people more.
@thameswater have now abandoned all communication on phones, email or social media. Zero updates. More and more people reporting no water. Reservoirs close to empty. Water pipes burst all across London. This is beyond a disgrace! London is falling… #WaterCrisis #thameswater
— Younes H-Hamou (@youneshh) March 4, 2018
Some free bottled water was provided at a few locations, but our nearest collection point was a 15-minute drive away – pretty useless if you don’t have a car or can’t drive. For vulnerable people unable to get out to buy or collect bottled water, the situation was potentially dangerous.
Eventually, on Sunday evening, news reached us that the water would be turned back on on Monday morning, in time for work, but when this deadline was missed, the timescale was shifted to ‘the end of the day’.
For some households, this meant they were without water for a good 72 hours.
@thameswater update is the five blocks of flats with 18 in each where I live have also had no water since late on Friday with no support of delivery of water – disgusting lack of help!!!
— carol ferrary (@carolmichael) March 5, 2018
In my opinion, the exceptional weather, crumbling Victorian infrastructure and lack of communication all combined to create the perfect storm of confusion and anger.
The industry regulator Ofwat has since said that water suppliers had ’fallen well short’ on forward planning and now MPs are calling for a public enquiry, as well as compensation for the people affected.
As I’m one of those, I’ll definitely be claiming – but would you know how to go about it and do you know your rights when it comes to water shortages and your water supply being cut off? If my neighbourhood’s experience is anything to go by, you might need to know one day.
Have you ever been affected by water shortages? Did your water supplier keep you informed? Do you know your rights when your water supply is disrupted?