Disability exemption from the hosepipe ban
Because of water shortages following two very dry winters, from today seven water authorities across parts of southern and eastern England have introduced a hosepipe ban. Until the ban is lifted - which is unlikely to be before the end of summer - using a hosepipe to water your garden or your plants, to clean outdoor surfaces or to fill a pond are all prohibited.
There are a few exemptions - and you might be able to take advantage of one of them. If you're a keen disabled gardener or just prefer your lawn to remain lush and green in dry summers, the good news is that you can go on watering your garden using a hosepipe. This is in recognition of the fact that many disabled people might not be able to handle or carry heavy watering cans. The bad news is that the rules aren't entirely simple and straightforward.
First, there is no national policy on exemptions. It's up to each individual water authority to decide their approach. In recent years, most water authorities have permitted disabled people to carry on using hosepipes, but if your provider introduces a ban you should always check first to make sure you're exempt. Water authorities also reserve the right to impose the hosepipe ban on disabled people too if the drought becomes more severe.
Second, the exemption doesn't include all disabled people - just those who, in the words of some of the water companies involved, have "severe mobility problems" and hold a Blue Badge. The Blue Badge requirement doesn't, however, mean you can use a hosepipe to wash your car - it's still only to be used on gardens, plants and the like. It's also strictly limited to your own property, so if you were thinking of hiring yourself and your hosepipe out to the neighbours, think again.
Finally, if you don't have a Blue Badge, but believe that the nature of your impairment will cause you severe difficulties watering your garden by hand, you can apply to your local water authority for an exemption from the hosepipe ban.
The question is, though: how many disabled people were previously aware of this exemption? It certainly seemed to be new information to some of Ouch's followers on Facebook when we posted a link to the BBC News story earlier today, with the necessity to have a Blue Badge causing particular comment on both sides of the argument. Reader Louise Whittingham said: "Blue Badge holders are disabled and it's generally used to park a car. Being disabled myself I'm not sure why if we had a ban where I live I shouldn't abide by the ban too, Blue Badge or no Blue Badge", while Bekkie Clarke echoed a popular view: "I think it's great that it's recognised that a lot of people enjoy their gardens but can't carry around huge watering cans, but someone needs to spare a thought for those of us who don't have a blue badge but face the same difficulties day to day", and Angela Jane Shields suggested that the reason for using the Blue Badge as the reason for exemption is because it's "a way of monitoring who is exempt from the ban at a council level".
What do you think? When water is in such short supply, should disabled people be exempted from the hosepipe ban? And how could it be more easily applied so that it's not just Blue Badge holders who qualify? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
• For more information on the hosepipe ban, check out the BBC News Q&A. If you live in an affected area, then the following water authority web pages contain more information on the ban, including their policy on exemptions for disabled people: Anglian Water, Southern Water, South East Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Thames Water, Veolia Central, Veolia South East.