How to protect tenants from water shortages

  • Water shortages are expected to become an increasing problem
  • By implementing some simple, low-cost measures, registered providers of social housing could help ease water stress
  • We share three ways that social housing organisations can combat this major climate change risk

Water shortages are one of the greatest climate change risks identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in addition to overheating and flooding. 

Rising temperatures, coupled with increasing demand, could lead to as much as a 40% shortfall in supply worldwide by 2030.

Fortunately, there are several low-cost measures that registered providers of social housing (RPs) can take to help reduce the strain on water supplies, and assist with safeguarding tenants – including those particularly vulnerable such as the old or infirm – against future shortages.

Rising water stress

Water stress occurs when demand is higher than available supply.

The UK’s population continues to grow, as does average water consumption – which has increased by approximately 1% each year since 1930.

At the same time, higher temperatures are increasing surface water evaporation, and with less rain in the summer months we are seeing a sharp decrease in available supplies.

Since the UK already has less available water per person than most other European countries, these trends are anticipated to increase water stress in the coming years.

Impact on tenants

The government has said that changes need to be made to the way water is managed. Water companies need to be more innovative, more efficient and more attentive to what their customers want.

However, as the risk of water shortages rises, water companies may have to progressively tighten restrictions – via measures such as hosepipe bans – to maintain safe levels of supply.

Any restrictions will inevitably have a negative impact on tenants, who will have less freedom to use their water supply.

Such measures could disproportionately affect vulnerable individuals, who are least able to adapt.

How social landlords can help

The social housing sector has a very good understanding of climate change’s potential impact on properties and tenants, according to a JBA Trust study.

However, the same study also revealed that, despite a good understanding of the risks, RPs were currently taking little action to protect against them or to embed protective measures into their strategic asset management.

In respect of water stress in particular, there was a general perception that combating this problem is the responsibility of water companies alone.

While water companies are certainly best placed to address issues of supply, water stress is equally a product of rising demand.

RPs are perfectly positioned to manage rising demand, achieving this through increasing the water efficiency of your properties and helping tenants to limit waste.

Here are three ways you can help reduce future water stress:

1. Incorporate into future designs

Simple, low-cost solutions – such as installing water meters, low-flow showers and narrow baths – can have a surprising impact on water consumption.

Estimates by the Environment Agency suggest that basic measures such as these can reduce an average household’s water usage by 14%.

Even for unmetered properties, a reduction in hot water alone can save households around £132 per year. Incorporating basic water-saving measures into future housing projects should be seen as a design necessity.

For more information on managing key risks through future housing designs, please read our Housing Design Guide.

2. Refurbishments, repairs and upgrades

Most existing housing developments have not been built with the effects of climate change in mind. Therefore, in addition to future project design, existing stock may need to be retrofitted to combat the effects of climate change.

Escape of water, already an important issue for property owners, will exacerbate these issues. There are many practical steps that can be taken to minimise escape of water, such as installing remote meter reading and leak warning devices, and you can read our guide on this topic here.

Fortunately, minor, low-cost alterations can make a big difference, and their installation can easily be incorporated into existing maintenance activities.

Whether it is during refurbishment, planned maintenance, or emergency repairs, RPs are encouraged to retrofit water-saving measures at every available opportunity.

3. Educate tenants on reducing waste

A London-based research project found that social tenants were generally aware of the issue of water scarcity and welcomed water-saving measures when they were introduced.

While future design and retrofitting will be essential, tenants can also make simple behavioural changes to improve their water-use efficiency.

For example, not running the tap while brushing your teeth can save as much as six litres of water per minute. Educating tenants on simple water-saving measures such as these can therefore make a big difference.

Water-saving organisation Waterwise has a number of tips and resources that you can use to inform tenants about how to reduce water waste.