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Many people too uncomfortable to ask for tap water

Licensed premises are legally required to provide free drinking water on request but they can charge for the use of the glass or service.

More than seven out of 10 people are uncomfortable asking for a free glass of tap water from places such as bars and restaurants if they are not a customer, a survey shows.

More than a third (37%) feel awkward asking for their reusable water bottle to be filled up, even if they are buying something, the poll for Keep Britain Tidy and BRITA UK said.

Nearly three out of five (59%) would be more likely to carry a reusable bottle if tap water refills were more freely available in places such as shops, airports and parks.

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Most people would like to see more places to fill up water bottles (Philip Toscano/PA)

Almost as many (57%) believe businesses that serve food or drinks should be required to provide free drinking water to the public, whether or not they are customers.

Licensed premises including bars, theatres and restaurants are legally required to provide free drinking water on request in England, Scotland and Wales, although they can charge for the use of the glass or service.

No legislation exists for the provision of free drinking water at unlicensed premises, including health clubs, tourist attractions and cinemas.

Only a quarter of those quizzed know their rights when it comes to asking for water in public buildings and businesses, which could lead to them buying bottled water or other drinks while on the go, Keep Britain Tidy said.

Keep Britain Tidy is calling for more action to make drinking water freely available to cut the use of throwaway plastic bottles, many of which end up as street litter or in the seas.

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(Tim Ireland/PA)

Some 7.7 billion single-use plastic water bottles are bought in the UK each year, but only a limited number are recycled.

The poll of more than 2,000 people questioned by YouGov found just 7% usually drink from water fountains or public taps and only 11% normally get tap water from cafes or restaurants while on the go.

Some 71% feel awkward asking for water from venues if they are not a customer. Nearly two-thirds (64%) rarely or never carry a refillable bottle but almost three quarters (73%) would like tap water to be more freely available.

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Restaurants are obliged to offer free tap water (Tim Goode/Empics)

Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “This report demonstrates that the British public want greater access to tap water when out and about.

“Topping-up in a glass or refillable bottle would encourage us to stay healthy while helping to reduce littering in our streets, parks and beaches, which is all good.”

Sarah Taylor, managing director of BRITA UK, said: ‘It’s great to see that many cafes, shops and other businesses already proactively offer free drinking water and encourage customers or non-customers to fill up, but we need more businesses to follow in their footsteps, greater availability of public drinking fountains, and to boost people’s understanding of their water rights.”

A report from Keep Britain Tidy called for increased public awareness of rights to drinking water, updating legislation, encouraging the hospitality industry to provide free water and working with transport providers to improve access to drinking water.

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