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Many homes across the south of England are still without running water – with no guarantee of it returning by Christmas Day.

Residents in Hampshire, Sussex, Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent have been without a water supply for the past week and are being told to pick up bottles from stations that in some cases are miles away from those who need them.

Water companies across the country said the rapid change in temperature – nearly 20C difference in some places – caused many pipes to burst.

On Friday, Southern Water said it now believes it is able to meet levels of demand after restricting access to residents in Southampton and the surrounding areas.

In a statement published online, the company said: “Our water supply works are stable and our reservoir storage is topped up. This means that we can now allow water to flow through our network and customers will see water supply in their homes over the coming hours.

“We’ll be increasing supply gradually as we re-pressurise the network to avoid pipes bursting. This means that it’s going to take a few hours for all our customers to be back in supply, and for some this could be this evening.”

Writing on social media, Affinity Water said it is trying to rebuild water capacity in the network and apologised to those in Essex and in Bishop’s Stortford who are still without a supply.

South East Water also said in an online statement residents in Tunbridge Wells are experiencing low pressure because the firm is still repairing pipes – but all its Sussex residents should see their water return today.

However, many have criticised South East Water for saying their water will return by a certain time and then failing to meet that deadline.

Lewis Baker, who lives in Southborough, Kent, with his girlfriend and 17-month-old daughter, said his family has been without water for eight days, which has made it much more difficult to wash and sterilise bottles for their toddler.

The 37-year-old City worker said: “The communication has been absolutely tragic. They’ve offered to put us on a priority list because we have a child in the house under five and when I asked them what this actually means, they said they can get water out to me.

“But again via their Twitter feeds, people have been confirming that the priority list has done absolutely nothing for everyone on it.

“One of the other issues we’ve got is that when you go to get water from the water station (Tesco at Pembury) the maximum amount of water they’ll give you is six two-litre bottles – and it takes four litres to wash her bottles and to sterilise them properly.

South East Water’s website is absolutely awful. It’s not representing what’s actually going on, there is no clear direction on what people need to do

Emily Gayton

“You have to keep travelling back there because you get through the water so quickly. We are currently going to the water station twice a day.

“We are in a very fortunate position where we have access to a car so we can go, but it makes you wonder what the elderly, disabled and people who don’t drive are currently doing.”

Emily Gayton, a 46-year-old sports massage therapist classed as vulnerable because she has heart issues, told the PA news agency she needs to drink two litres of water a day.

She said her home in Mayfield, East Sussex, has been without water for a week, adding: “I was told that there would be water drop-offs for people who are vulnerable but there have been none to my knowledge, and then every time you go on to the website they keep changing the time the water will return by.

“And they have been doing this constantly.

“I have been living off grapes just to kind of give me energy to go on. I’ve got a very physical job so I’ve been eating a handful of grapes here and there and just sipping water to keep going.

“What’s really upset me is the blatant lies and the lack of care. South East Water’s website is absolutely awful. It’s not representing what’s actually going on, there is no clear direction on what people need to do and they are directing people to water points which are miles away.

“They have been aware of this problem way before the snow hit, before the big freeze – it’s been happening for years.”

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