Hosepipe ban rules were described as “crazy” on Sunday as it emerged that people with newly laid lawns could still use them to water the grass.
Around 3.5 million people have been barred from using hosepipes in their homes to wash cars or replenish gardens amid drought conditions. It comes as Britain is braced for another heatwave, with highs of up to 35C expected this week.
However, The Telegraph has learned that there is a slew of exceptions to the rules, which experts have warned will lead to confusion and inconsistency.
Hosepipes can still be used to water newly laid turf in gardens for 28 days after planting “to help them establish”, the South East Water website says, adding: “We would ask if possible to wait for cooler weather to lay new turf, when we expect to see demand for water reduce.”
Hot tubs are also exempt, but swimming pools and swim spas are not, the guidance says. Other exemptions exist for washing out a wheelie bin, cleaning the inside of a boat and watering pot plants.
Caroline Gould, South East Water’s head of legal, said: “The restrictions under the Water Industry Act 1991 apply to domestic swimming and paddling pools, not hot tubs. We believe that this is due to hot tubs at the time being viewed more as baths, which are not a restricted activity.
“We are therefore asking our customers to consider their usage and to wait until cooler weather and demand for water reduces for any water use that is not essential or necessary.”
Feargal Sharkey, the water campaigner and former Undertones frontman, called the rules “amateurish, confused, mixed-up messaging”, adding: “There’s so many caveats it might as well not exist.”
Christine Colvin, of the Rivers Trust, said a hot tub was “a luxury use of water”, adding: “You can understand people wanting to nurture their gardens, growing food in their gardens, wanting to keep things alive. That doesn’t apply to a hot tub. That just seems crazy.
“I guess that clarity will come with time. It doesn’t help that we don’t have it at the moment.
“I think the water companies, because they know they don’t have the confidence of the public because there’s been such an outcry about their pollution ... are possibly overcomplicating the situation by trying to give too many exemptions and going softly, softly into this ban without treading on people’s toes.”
With more hot, dry weather forecast for this week and most of the UK set to see very little rain, there are fears of more restrictions.
Both Thames Water and Anglian Water have said they have no immediate plans to introduce hosepipe bans but could be forced to do so if rain does not replenish rivers and reservoirs.
It comes after George Eustice, the Environment Secretary called in The Telegraph for more water companies to introduce urgent restrictions. Rishi Sunak, the Tory leadership contender, is understood to be supportive of that position, while his rival Liz Truss is not.
A spokesman for Water UK said: “Every company has a drought plan in place, agreed with ministers and the Environment Agency. These set out specific triggers for activating different levels of response, including hosepipe bans.
“The Government decided that it should be up to water companies to take the final judgment on when each plan’s action triggers have been met.”