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South East Water blames people working from home for hosepipe ban

Chief executive claims that people working from home was a ‘key factor’ behind the the first hosepipe ban of the summer

(PA) / PA Archive
24 June 2023

water company has blamed more people working from home post-pandemic for a new hosepipe ban.

South East Water, which supplies more than two million homes and businesses, will impose the first hosepipe ban of the summer on Monday, affecting households across Kent and Sussex.

The company’s chief executive David Hinton claimed that people working from home was a “key factor” behind the ban, as it has “increased drinking water demand”.

In a letter to customers, he wrote: “Over the past three years the way in which drinking water is being used across the south east has changed considerably.

“The rise of working from home has increased drinking water demand in commuter towns by around 20% over a very short period, testing our existing infrastructure.”

Mr Hinton also blamed low rainfall since April, which he said had left water butts empty, as well as a recent spell of hot weather which he said led to a spike in demand for drinking water.

“Our reservoir and aquifer stocks of raw water, essential to our water supply but not ready to be used, are in a good position. However, demand for treated mains water, which takes time to process and deliver, was greater than we could meet,” he said.

“Over the past week we have needed to find water to supply the equivalent of an additional four towns the size of Maidstone or Eastbourne, every day.”

One South East Water customer accused Mr Hinton of “victim blaming” and described his letter as “a deflection from the real issue”.

Jutta Wrobel, 61, an artist in the village of Wadhurst, East Sussex, said: “It’s not a suitable response, neither is the paddling pool story or the idea they didn’t see summer coming – they’re all trivial sideshows.

“This is a deflection from the real issue which is how to stop South East Water paying away all our money in dividends rather than reinvesting in our water infrastructure, which is a public utility and a human right.

“We are supposed to be the Garden of England. We are not supposed to have hosepipe bans for two years running.”

The married grandmother of four started an online petition demanding a change of ownership of South East Water after she was left without mains water for five days earlier this month.

She added: “The barrage of victim blaming by South East Water is what I think has riled people up.

“I’m interested in what the regulator is doing about it and whether there will be meaningful sanctions imposed on South East Water.”

Greg Clark, the Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells, told The Times: “Their only job is to deliver drinking water. But in my constituency, they have run out of water twice in six months – once just before Christmas when we had a cold snap, and now after a small and unexceptional heatwave.

“What they’re describing in terms of people working for home is by no means specific to this area.

“There has been for some time a tendency for people to work more from home. A water company should be able to predict and accommodate for this.”

A spokeswoman for the water regulator Ofwat told The Times: “South East Water must do better to predict and manage operational issues, help customers, and engage with them on what is happening and why.

“Customers will be asking why, for the second time in six months, their water company is being caught out by the weather.”

In a statement, South East Water’s Head of Service Management, Steve Andrews, said: “We announced the Temporary Use Ban (TUB) on Friday 16 June. Following a period of consultation, we will be able to take action against customers who contravene the hosepipe restrictions from Monday, 26 June.

“The restrictions have been introduced to ensure that we can deliver drinking water to all our customers consistently.

“Since the TUB was introduced, we have seen customer demand reduce, bringing down the high demand for tap water. We want to thank our customers for being mindful of their water use and remind them to continue to use water wisely over the coming weekend.”

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