Hosepipe restrictions introduced during times of drought are to be overhauled to plug existing loopholes, the government has said.
At present water companies can ban customers from using hosepipes or sprinklers during water shortages.
But gaps in the current law meant that while homeowners were prevented from watering their garden or washing their car with a hose, they could fill an outdoor hot tub or swimming pool.
Ministers say the previous ban is to be replaced by a ‘discretionary use’ ban. It will apply in both England and Wales.
The new ban will extend the range of prohibited hosepipe uses to include cleaning patios, the operation of ornamental fountains and the filling of swimming pools and hot tubs, whether by hosepipe or through permanent plumbing.
Water firms will have the power to choose which activities they restrict under the discretionary use powers, which are meant to be more flexible than the existing rules.
Environment Minister Phil Woolas said: ‘The new powers will be less rigid, and will allow water companies to take a more sensitive and more flexible approach, applying some or all of the powers according to local circumstances.
‘During periods of drought we are reliant on the goodwill of people to do their bit to conserve water.
‘The response of the people in the south east in 2005 and 2006 was outstanding, and selfless action protected everyone from more severe restrictions. But that goodwill can disappear very quickly when there are blatant anomalies and people feel they are being unfairly singled out. I believe these changes will close that gap.’
The Consumer Council for Water welcomed the new rules, saying they meant clearer guidelines for householders.
CCWater policy manager Karen Gibbs said: ‘Most consumers accept that there are times when restrictions on non-essential use are necessary, but want clear rules in place so they know what they can and can’t do at these times.
‘Water companies need to ensure they communicate clearly with consumers in times of drought and it is important that they explain why restrictions are necessary and what they are doing to manage the situation.
‘Companies must be seen to be doing all they can to deal with leakage and adopting all necessary measures to ensure a good quality, consistent water supply is maintained.’