UNISONScotland www
This is our archive website that is no longer being updated.
For the new website please go to
Click here
Home News About us Join Us Contacts Help Resources Learning Links UNISON UK



Private Water Supply

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Environment Group Consultation on Private Water Supply Regulation

February 2002



This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive Environment Group on Private Water Supply Regulation.

UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 140,000 members working in the public sector. As the largest trade union in the Scottish water industry, UNISON members are both providers and users of water in Scotland. UNISON welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Scottish Executive's consultative paper on the proposals for the regulation of private water supply. This response needs to be seen in the context of our previous submissions to recent Scottish Executive consultations on the water industry.

We welcome the proposals to regulate private water. UNISON believes that the provision of healthy and safe water to all people of Scotland is crucial to the wider public health and social inclusion agenda. Whilst we recognise the difficulties in determining responsibility for private water regulation, we believe that it is essential that the issues are addressed.

Our comments on the consultation document emphasise the need for robust standards, greater regulation and accountability, and long term investment to ensure safe drinking water for all people in Scotland.

We have provided below our responses to the questions posed in the consultation document.



  1. Regulation of private water supplies.
  2. UNISON recognises that there are substantial resource implications in requiring all private water supplies to be regulated by local authorities. However, when balancing public health with cost, we believe that it is right to include all private water supplies, not just those serving more than 50 persons or supplies associated with commercial activity.

    As noted in the consultation document, there are many issues of the protection of visitors and guests to unregulated areas. The document does not clearly define a "commercial activity". UNISON is concerned at the risks posed to users or visitors to community centres, bed and breakfast accommodation, voluntary or charity properties, which may not fall into the category of "commercial activity". Given the importance of tourism in remote and rural areas we should put in safeguards to ensure standards are consistently met.

    The resource implications for local authorities will be substantial, and UNISON would envisage additional resources being allocated for these purposes. We would recommend clear guidelines on water regulation, and the possibility of grants or aid for owners of private water supplies who do not have the means to meet such new requirements. It should be stressed that UNISON views grants or aids as a safeguard to protect small co-operatives, crofters or private owners responsible for private water supplies.

  3. Relevant person against whom enforcement action will be taken.
  4. UNISON acknowledges that both the owner of the land on which the source of the water supply is located, and the owner of the property to which the water is supplied, should have responsibilities to ensure water standards are adhered to, however we see that this position could pose difficulties.

    We are aware of the range of scenarios which have potential to affect water quality which are difficult to legislate against. For example, environmental or natural occurrences far upstream of abstraction point, between source and supply point, and at storage points can affect the quality of water.

    It is important to recognise that land may be owned by co-operatives, community trusts, farmers or crofters, who may not have the resources to ensure standards are met. If necessary, as noted in point 1, grants or assistance could be made available to assist such groups and individuals who are deemed responsible for ensuring water quality standards are met.

    UNISON believes that there should be certainty over who is responsible for the water standards within private water supplies. Due to the issues this "relevant person" question raises, UNISON would suggest the Executive may want to do further consultation on this matter before reaching firm decisions.

  5. Provision of unfit water.
  6. UNISON agrees that provision of water unfit for human consumption should be made a criminal offence. It is currently an offence for public water authorities to provide water unfit for human consumption, so we believe there is a strong case for extending this to all private water supplies. UNISON believes this is in the interests of public health, and would welcome a mechanism for closure of disputes between the regulator and individuals who refuse to undertake reasonable steps to comply.

  7. Ownership and improvements
  8. UNISON believes that owners should be responsible for maintaining their supplies. At present a significant number of private supplies are not properly maintained. In many cases improvements could be made if owners shared costs where there is joint ownership. We recognise that in some cases considerable maintenance is required and we would wish to see an improvement grants system, or loans for repairs.

    Ideally UNISON would aim to see private supplies being brought under local authority controls, however this would bring enormous cost implications to authorities where private supplies are below standard. Systems to improve private supplies prior to the adoption of the private supply by the public authority would need to be developed, along with additional resources for water authorities which take into consideration remote working conditions.

    Again we would suggest that the Executive may wish to consult further on the issues of ownership, and responsibility for maintenance and improvements.

  9. Support and education.
  10. UNISON agrees that support, education and information should be provided to users of private water supplies. We believe that the water authorities would be the most appropriate bodies to provide that support. Again there are resource implications in the provision of any support, education and information. However given the expertise, skills and knowledge of employees within the water authorities, and, with appropriate investment from the Executive, this function could be met from within the water authorities.

  11. Register of private water supplies
  12. UNISON agrees that the register of private water supplies compiled by local authorities should be updated taking cognisance of the requirements of Directive 98/83/EC. We welcome the definition of "commercial or public activity" to include all private supplies to buildings which the public can reasonably have access in the course of their normal activities to include; schools, hospitals, community halls, etc..

  13. Provision of unwholesome water
  14. UNISON supports the move to make the provision of unwholesome water a breach of the Regulations. As noted throughout this submission, the interests of public health should be paramount, and we agree that this will strengthen the powers available to Environmental Health Officers in the pursuance of their duties.

  15. Microbiological risk protocol
  16. UNISON supports the adoption of a microbiological risk protocol to identify risk from Cryptosporidium to private water supplies covered by Directive 98/83/EC.

  17. Parameters and sampling frequencies
  18. UNISON welcomes the parameters and sampling frequencies for use with the Private Water Supply Regulations as set out in Annex B.

  19. Water quality test results
  20. UNISON supports moves towards regulations that include a requirement for commercial undertakings and public buildings to prominently display their current water quality test results. We believe that this would be useful information for the public, whether they are employees, customers, or visitors.

    However, UNISON recognises that there are again resource implications in routine inspections for this measure to be effective. Given the importance of tourism in remote and rural areas where the majority of private water supplies are located, it would give reassurance to the public, and encourage good practice amongst owners, distributors and suppliers of private water

  21. Microbiological risk assessment protocol.
  22. There should be the application of a microbiological risk assessment protocol for the protection of the sources of private water supplies. UNISON also welcomes the proposals for owners to request a visit from Environmental Health Officials in advance of the programme. Such visits are going to have significant resource implications for Environmental Health Officers, however, again in the interests of public health we believe that this would be a worthwhile initiative.

  23. Financial Support
  24. UNISON strongly agrees that financial support is required for improving source protection, and for provision of point-of-use/point-of-entry devices on private water supplies where local owners do not have the means to do so. We look forward to developing this theme in later consultations.

  25. Adoption of private distribution systems
  26. UNISON believes that the water authority should adopt private distribution systems where water is potable. Where the water is raw or partially treated we believe it should remain in private ownership. UNISON is concerned that where the water authority is supplying water from the public network to a private distributing system, this brings the possibility of the private distributor making profits out with their distribution costs.

  27. Quality Regulation
  28. As noted, UNISON supports a system where private distribution systems are taken into water authority control. Water authority control would mean that there is no dilemma over who carries out quality regulation, and would ultimately lead to improved water quality, and a uniformity of standards throughout Scotland.

  29. Council Tax water charges - private distribution systems
  30. UNISON believes that a water authority should collect Council Tax water charges where the water supplied originates from the public network. As noted above the duty of care to maintain quality standards on private distribution systems, should ensure that users are receiving water of the same standard supplied from the water authority.

  31. Duty of Care
  32. UNISON firmly believes that an additional duty of care should be placed on a building owner to ensure that water quality is not degraded where water supplies are taken from the public supply, through break pressure systems, and then re-supplied to occupants of tower blocks.

  33. Council Tax water charges
  34. As noted in point 15, UNISON proposes that the water authority should still collect Council Tax water charges in the normal way in blocks of flats where water is delivered to a central tank and distributed via a private system. Under the proposals for a duty of care on owners, then the owner should adhere to this duty of care to ensure water quality is maintained where supplies are delivered to a water tank and then distributed within a block of flats.

  35. Duty of care to replace lead rising mains
  36. The duty of care to replace lead rising mains in tenement blocks that are in joint ownership should be placed on the factor in such properties, and where there is no factor on the owners. However, this will only work if money in the form of grants, loans or some other assistance is made available from local authorities for this work.

  37. Lead pipework
  38. Local authorities should be required to include the elimination of lead pipework in the specification of works so as replacement of lead pipework becomes work done under statutory notice, so as they supervise repairs or replacements.

  39. Public water supply network

UNISON believes that the legislation should continue to consider that water supplies taken from raw water mains are part of the public water supply network.


Additional Comments

UNISON notes the Scottish Executive Environment Group's consultation of 7 February 2002: The Future for Scotland's Waters - Proposals for Legislation. We look forward to responding to these latest proposals in due course.

We believe it is essential that there are systems and safeguards for controlling water abstraction and impoundment, and we are pleased to see that these issues are being raised in this new consultation. In addition, we welcome the opportunity to put forward the case for introducing water use licences, registration and management agreements. UNISON supports a more open and accountable approach to Scotland's waters, monitoring activities and promoting sustainable water use through specific control measures.

UNISON will outline these comments in greater detail in our response to this consultation document.



UNISON considers the consultation paper a useful starting point that addresses a range of environmental, public health, ownership and responsibility issues. Clearly there are some long term issues and some considerable resource implications to consider. In addition there are ownership and responsibility issues which need careful consultation.

However, UNISON believes that it is essential that Scotland has a safe and healthy water system, with the appropriate safeguards, adequate resources, and long term planning. We strongly believe that the public water authority has a crucial role to play in this process.


For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835
e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

Top of page

Submissions index | Home