Millions will be hit by a hosepipe ban next week as water companies across the country urge customers to limit their water use. Here's what you need to know, including how to save water and avoid the £1,000 fine for breaching a ban.

United Utilities has announced it's introducing a hosepipe ban from Sunday 5 August, which will affect about seven million people in north-west England, while Northern Ireland Water last Thursday lifted a hosepipe ban which had been in place across the whole of Northern Ireland.

Whenever a water firm puts a hosepipe ban in place, it will contact customers via post, email or text, and it will also have information on its website. If you're unsure which your water supplier is, type your postcode into industry body Water UK's 'Find your supplier' tool.

The restrictions come with some parts of the UK not having seen rain for weeks – the first half of the summer in the UK has been the driest since 1961, according to the Met Office. The last time a major hosepipe ban was in place was 2012, when restrictions were brought in by seven water companies, affecting 20 million customers.

For full help on reducing your water usage, see our Cut your water bills guide.

Here's what you CAN'T do if a hosepipe ban is in place

Hosepipe ban rules are laid out in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010.

If a water company wants to impose a ban, it has to give customers plenty of warning by publishing information on its website, and in two or more newspapers covering the affected area.

Water firms may vary the rules depending on the circumstances, but under law, they're allowed to stop you doing the following (regardless of whether you use a hosepipe, watering can, bucket etc):

  • Filling a paddling pool or swimming pool
  • Filling an ornamental fountain

Water firms can also stop you using your hosepipe to:

  • Water your garden or plants
  • Clean your car or motorbike
  • Clean your home's walls or windows
  • Clean paths, patios or other outdoor surfaces
  • The law also includes "drawing water for domestic recreational use", such as water balloon fights etc
  • Fill your pond
  • Clean a boat

You could be fined if your water firm bans any of the above and you break these rules. However, it's worth noting the law also allows some exceptions, such as if you need to fill a pond with fish in. United Utilities, for example, has made a number of exemptions to the rules for blue badge holders and those on its priority services register, ie, those who may be vulnerable due to their age or a medical condition.

Can I still legally water my garden under a hosepipe ban?

The short answer is yes, you can – but you'll have to do it the hard way.

You can use a watering can to water your plants instead of using your hosepipe – and, for that matter, you can use a bucket and sponge to clean your car. A water company may advise you to limit this kind of water use, but it can't officially ban it.

Can I really be fined £1,000 for breaking a hosepipe ban?

If you're in an area where a ban has been introduced, you could be fined up to £1,000 if you're found to have breached any of the rules above which your water firm has imposed – though it's possible the water company may instead issue you with a written warning as a first step.

We've been told that people mainly get caught when their neighbours report them to their water company. If found to be breaching the ban, you can be taken to magistrates' court by the water company and, if convicted, face a fine of up to £1,000.

Some firms are asking you to save water – but haven't put bans in place

So far United Utilities and Northern Ireland Water are the only firms to have announced hosepipe bans this summer – and Northern Ireland Water's has now been lifted, while United Utilities' doesn't start until Sunday 5 August. But a number of other water companies such as Southern Water and Welsh Water are asking customers to limit their usage, though they've stopped short of a hosepipe ban.

Their suggestions for limiting usage include stopping watering your lawn, turning off the tap when you're brushing your teeth and keeping a jug of water in the fridge so you don't have to wait for tap water to run cold.

A Water UK spokesperson said: "Thanks to above average rainfall in spring this year, water levels across the UK are in a healthy position – Britain is not about to go into a drought.

"However, demand for water remains extremely high throughout the current heatwave, so water companies are continuing to ask everyone to please use water wisely."

How to cut water usage

Here are some top tips suggested by our forumites for saving water:

  • Water garden plants in the evening. Forumite malebolge says: "Only water [plants] by hand, and only water in the evening. Make sure the water goes to the base of the plants, not sprinkled on leaves etc."
  • Use water from the bath or shower to water non-edible plants. Forumite Hopeless Case suggests: "Plants that have been in the ground for a long time don't need water unless they start to look unhappy. Our apple tree drooped yesterday so I gave it a couple of buckets of shower water."
  • Replumb your sink. DaftyDuck writes: "[Have you] got a double sink, or one with one of those mini drainers in the middle? Replumb it so one runs to an outside tank, and drain non-soapy water into it... You'll be amazed at the quantity of perfectly good water you have for the garden."
  • Order free water-saving gadgets. Some water companies offer to send customers free devices to help them save water, particularly in the bathroom.
  • Turn off the tap when you shower. After initially getting some water on you, turn off the shower until you are ready to rinse clean. One MoneySaver reckons you can 'shower' using almost no water at all.
  • Save your washing up for one wash. Instead of washing up as you go, save it up and do it in one go to minimise the amount of water used. As one MoneySaver says, it's a great excuse to leave the washing up!
  • Fix leaky taps. If your meter increases when you're not using water, get any leaks sorted.

See our Beat the Hosepipe Ban section of our Water Bills guide for more tips.