Leaking pipes

Getting water to your home

Water is brought to your homes through thousands of kilometres of underground pipes. For various reasons, pipes can leak and some water is lost between the treatment works and your home.

341,674km Length of water pipes (mains) owned by water companies
Equivalent to
8.5 times
around the equator

Source: Water UK; England and Wales, Apr 2015 - Mar 2016

3,087 Million litres of water leaked each day
Equivalent to
1,235
Olympic swimming pools per day

Source: Water UK; England and Wales, Apr 2015 - Mar 2016

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Water companies have reduced leakage by a third from the 1990s and continue to manage leakage closely. All companies have targets for the amount of water that leaks from pipes.


How can companies be compared?

There are different ways to compare how companies are doing on leakage:

• Comparing how each company is doing against its target

All companies have targets for how much water leaks from pipes – are they meeting, beating or failing them?

Targets differ for each company, depending on how much it costs to reduce leakage in each area and how much extra water from reducing leaking is worth – in money, to the environment and to customers. The targets are approved by the regulator, Ofwat, and set so that bills are no higher than they need to be.

• Comparing companies against each other

Because the size of areas companies supply can vary considerably, the amount of leakage in each company’s area is different. To compare companies against each other, you can either look at how much leakage there is per length of pipe – or how much leakage there is per property.


Why might the leakage levels and targets vary?

Targets for leakage are based on comparing the cost of getting extra water by reducing leakage and the cost of getting extra water from other sources, in each part of the country. So leakage targets, and the level of leakage, will vary depending on local costs and water availability in that region. The targets also include how important customers think reducing leakage is, and this varies across the country too. 

Leakage can also vary due to:

• Extreme weather conditions - hot and dry weather or freezing cold leads to the ground expanding or contracting around water mains pipes, resulting in bursts

• The age of the pipe network in a particular region - older pipes tend to leak more

• Pipe material – some materials are more prone to bursting than others

• Differences in water pressure

• Soil conditions - corrosion can lead to some pipe materials being eaten away

• Damage to pipes - in cities and towns, heavy traffic compresses the soil around pipes and can damage them.

Have companies met their targets?

The graph shows whether companies have met their targets in the latest year. If actual leakage is less than the target, the company has beaten the target and saved extra water. 


Why aren’t there targets for all companies on the graph?

Some companies don’t have targets for every year – they have targets they have to meet by 2020 – and some companies have a different type of target: as these aren’t comparable with each other, they aren’t shown on this graph. For more information you can go to your company’s website using the link below.


Million litres of water leaked (per day)

      Million litres of water leaked (per day) shown to three significant figures

      Source: Water UK & CCWater

      Cubic metres of water leaked (per kilometre per day)

      To compare companies of different sizes, this graph shows the volume of water leaked from each company’s pipes compared to the overall length of water pipes the company has. This graph shows performance in the latest year.

          Cubic metres of water leaked (per kilometre per day)

          Source: Water UK & CCWater

          Litres of water leaked (per property per day)

          To compare companies of different sizes, the graph shows the volume of water leaked from each company’s pipes compared to the number of properties the company supplies. This graph shows performance in the latest year.

              Litres of water leaked (per property per day)

              Source: Water UK & CCWater

              Cubic metres of water leaked (per kilometre per day)

              To compare companies of different sizes, this graph shows the volume of water leaked from each company’s pipes compared to the overall length of water pipes the company has. The graph shows how companies compare on leakage over the last three years.

                  Cubic metres of water leaked (per kilometre per day) shown to three significant figures

                  Source: Water UK & CCWater

                  Litres of water leaked (per property per day)

                  To compare companies of different sizes, the graph shows the volume of water leaked from each company’s pipes compared to the number of properties the company supplies. The graph shows how companies compare on leakage over the last three years.

                      Litres of water leaked (per property per day)

                      Source: Water UK & CCWater

                      Water pipes - which do you own?

                      It is helpful to know which pipes are water companies' responsibility and which ones are yours.

                      Water pipes - which do you own?
                      • There are many reasons why water pipes leak. Some are old and have worn out through gradual corrosion, and others can get damaged by freezing weather.

                        Ground movement, such as natural shifts in building foundations, can also put a strain on pipework.

                      • If you spot a leak on the street, the best thing to do is report it to your water company as soon as possible. 

                        In your home, some leaks such as dripping taps are obvious but others can be hidden, for example:

                        • Behind a poorly plumbed appliance
                        • In a rarely-seen water tank 
                        • Due to an overflowing toilet cistern 

                        If you think you may have a leak and you are on a water meter, check your meter reading to see if it is rising even when all water appliances are off (remember to wait 30 minutes to allow any cisterns to fill). 

                        If you find a leak in your pipes, contact a WaterSafe certified plumber. 

                      Spotted a leak?

                      Please contact your local water company. Don’t know who your supplier is? Find out here

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