The Repairing Standard

Repairing standard lead pipes

Please call 0161 399 2025 or email hello@thewaterprofessor.com for information on testing packages for landlords.

What is the Repairing Standard?

Private landlords in Scotland are required to meet the obligations set in law by the Housing (Scotland) Act of 2006, chapter 4 of the act sets out the legal and contractual requirements with respect to the ‘Repairing Standard’. The Repairing Standard stipulates the minimum level of repair a property must achieve to be used as private rented accommodation in Scotland.

The Repairing Standard is a basic level of repair that all privately rented properties in Scotland must meet.

From 1 March 2024 private landlords are required to be compliant with new guidance with respect to the standard. The latest guidance brings in new measures for safe kitchens, heating systems, doors, electrical safety (residual current devices), and access and consent to common areas.

The new guidance sets very clear expectations with respect to the supply of drinking water and specifically the requirements for landlords to ensure drinking water is not contaminated with lead. Lead is the main water quality issue in Scotland and is a particular problem in houses built before 1970 when lead pipes, tanks, and fittings were commonly used.

 

What are the risks of lead in drinking water?

Lead is a serious threat to public health, long term exposure to relatively low levels of lead is known to be associated with many health conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), kidney (renal) disease, digestive disease, and cognitive decline. Lead can cross the placental barrier and harm the unborn foetus and is known to cause developmental delay and learning difficulties in children. One study followed 1,300 children from birth and found that IQ decreased by almost 7 points as blood lead levels increased.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) sets no safe limit on the concentration of lead in drinking water.

In the UK, the drinking water standards require the level of lead to be less than 10 micrograms per litre (µg/l) which is equivalent to 10 parts per billion. The standard will be tightened in 2036 when water will need to contain less than 5 µg/l. These standards provide a useful benchmark for water quality standards but it’s important to note that lead is hazardous to health at levels below these limits and test results of less than the limit (sometimes described as the prescribed concentration or value, PCV) should not be interpreted as safe.

 

What are the responsibilities of landlords under the new standard?

The requirements for the installation of water supplies are detailed in Annex D1 of the Repairing Standard guidance. Landlords must be satisfied that any house they rent to tenants has “an adequate piped supply of wholesome drinking water within the house”. It also goes on to specify that “they must also ensure that any pipes supplying water for human consumption are in good condition and safe to use”. The term ‘wholesome’ is commonly used in drinking water standards but isn’t specific, fortunately the repairing standard goes on to explicitly state the things that a landlord must consider:

  • Lead in drinking water
  • Types of water supply
  • Unwholesome water
  • Legionella
  • Adequate supply

The biggest problem to Scottish water supplies is lead contamination, we will cover this in detail in later sections.

Types of supply: Most people in Scotland will get their water from a public water supply (Scottish Water), houses outside of towns are sometimes supplied by private water supplies such as boreholes, where this is the case a laboratory water test must be conducted before the property is let, annual testing is the responsibility of the local authority (although they have the right to pass the cost of the testing on to the landlord).

Unwholesome water: Water must be free of microorganisms such as E.coli, the standards lay down specifications with respect to colour and odour, both of which can indicate serious problems. A laboratory test is the only conclusive way to determine whether a water supply is wholesome. The guidance stipulates that a laboratory test must be conducted if:

  • The water comes from a private water supply.
  • There are known to be lead pipes which cannot be removed or replaced.

Legionella: The guidance states “private landlords have a duty to carry out a risk assessment of both hot and cold-water systems for legionnaire’s disease to minimise the risk of tenants being exposed to legionella.”. The guidance goes on to specify that “in most residential settings, a simple assessment may show that the risks are low, and no further action may be necessary”. Risks are lower when daily water usage is inevitable, cold water is directly fed from a ‘wholesome’ mains supply and hot water is fed from instantaneous heaters (supplying water at >50°C).

Adequate supply: The water supply must be available, wholesome water should be available from at least one tap inside the house, this will normally be the kitchen tap. The supply must also be adequate meaning the tenant should have access to a reasonable quantity of water at a rate of seven litres per minute. The supply must also be continuous, this can be a particular problem for private water supplies that are prone to water sources drying up in summer months.

Who is responsible for replacing water pipes supplying the property?

In general, the property owner is responsible for all pipes within their property and also for the pipe work from the external stopcock (normally located at the property boundary) to the house, this is called the supply pipe. For those on public water supplies, the water company (in Scotland this is Scottish water) is responsible for the mains pipes and the pipe that connects the water main in the street with the external stopcock, this is termed the communication pipe.

In older housing both the communication pipe and the supply pipe may be made of lead. When a property owner replaces internal lead pipes and supply pipes the water company is required to replace any lead communication pipes.

Communication and service pipes

What are the landlord’s responsibilities with respect to lead pipes?

The main water quality issues in Scotland relate to the use of lead pipes. Since 1970 the dangers of them have been understood and recognised and the use of them has been prohibited. However, many older houses are still plumbed with dangerous lead pipes, it has been estimated that as many as 9 million houses across the UK may be affected by lead pipes.

Scottish water is generally ‘soft’ in nature, meaning that it contains little calcium and magnesium salts. Whilst the taste and feel of Scottish water may be the envy of the UK, the downside of soft water is that it’s harder to control the acidity (pH) and it can therefore be more corrosive to plumbing than hard water.

The Repairing Standard is very clear with respect to lead in rented housing, “lead pipes and lead lined storage tanks or fittings should not be present in the water supply of any privately rented property”, unless the landlord is unable to replace the pipes due to lack of consent from other owners, lead pipes and tanks must be removed to comply with the repairing standard.

The standard requires the landlord to:

  • Inspect: Private landlords are explicitly required to check all visible pipework within the house and perform an assessment of whether the water supply runs through lead pipes. Internal plumbing is often painted so lead plumbing may not be apparent, some further guidance on identifying lead pipes can be found here, in summary:
    • Inspect the area where the supply pipe enters the property (near the internal stopcock) by looking for pipes that are dark matt grey colour.
    • Inspect plumbing joints, if you observe smooth bulging joints these may be lead wipe joints that indicate lead pipes.
    • Use a small magnet to test if the pipes are magnetic. Magnetic pipes are likely to be galvanised steel pipes and not lead.
    • Carefully scratch your supply line with a screwdriver. If the pipe is soft and the metal you reveal is grey then it’s likely to be lead.
  • Risk assessment: The repair standard guidance states “if a landlord is uncertain whether there are lead pipes, or is aware of a risk, tenants must be informed and water sample must be taken for laboratory analysis”, it goes on to stipulate “water should be tested at all outlets where water may be consumed as lead maybe present anywhere in the building's plumbing”. By the way the guidance is worded, the private landlord would need to have certainty that the property does not have lead contamination, this is a very high burden of proof and given that much of the plumbing is normally hidden from view it would seem hard for the landlord to reach a position of certainty without some form of testing.
  • Testing: Where landlords cannot reach a position of being certain that lead pipes are not present then laboratory testing should be conducted. The guidance states “the presence of lead of about 3 micrograms per litre indicates that some lead is present in the plumbing”. It should be noted that lead test strips are not sensitive enough for testing drinking water. Testing must be conducted by a competent laboratory.
  • Undertake necessary work: If lead pipes are present then the standard requires that they must be removed, where lead pipes aren’t visible and a lead water test is found to have more than 3 micrograms per litre (parts per billion), further investigation is required. Lead contamination may arise from lead pipes, lead lined water storage tanks, brass fittings, and even from the solder used to join copper pipes (lead free solder should be used on water supply pipework, unfortunately solder containing lead is still available to purchase in the UK and is occasionally incorrectly used on water supply systems).
  • Retest: After remediation work is complete the property should be retested to confirm no further problems persist, “where work is undertaken to remove lead piping, the property should be resampled to confirm that all lead has been removed”.

The presence of lead of about 3 micrograms per litre indicates that some lead is present in the plumbing.

How can landlords and letting agents test drinking water for lead?

The Repair Standard guidance is clear that laboratory testing should be used where the landlord does not have certainty that lead pipes aren’t used. Fortunately, laboratory testing for lead in drinking water is simple, affordable and convenient. Independent water testing companies such as ‘The Water Professor’ offer a convenient solution for testing water supplies. 

Lead tests start from just £50, whole-house testing options are a cost-effective way of testing multiple taps. More details of lead testing can be found on our lead testing page.

Tests are suitable for landlords and letting agencies seeking to be compliant with the Repair Standard and to tenants wanting to assure the water in their rented property is safe.

Noncompliance – legal and health consequences

The obvious consequence of non-compliance with the lead pipe requirements of the repairing standard is to public health. Lead is an extremely toxic and harmful contaminant of our water, the science is now clear that it causes many long term health problems and causes developmental problems in children. Worst still, lead accumulates within the body and can cause long term health problems, even at very low concentrations.

The responsibility for legal enforcement of the Repairing Standard lies with the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber), the FTT, and administration is carried out by staff of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals service. When a tenant believes that the Repairing Standard is not being met for a property they rent from a private landlord they can apply to the FTT for a determination, and where tenants feel that they are vulnerable, they can contact their local authority who have the power to apply the tribunal on their behalf.

The bottom line

The new guidance on the Repairing Standard requires landlords to have certainty that the water supply in the property they let does not contain harmful levels of lead. The Standard explicitly states that any lead pipes identified must be removed or replaced. Where landlords are not certain that the water is free of lead they should consider testing the supply.

The guidance provides useful help in the interpretation of the Standard and states that lead levels that are at or exceed 3 micrograms per litre are indicative of lead pipes and require further investigation. Accurate testing for lead must be conducted in a competent laboratory, fortunately independent testing is available and is accurate, fast, and convenient.

Please call 0161 399 2025 or email hello@thewaterprofessor.com for information on testing packages for landlords.

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