More than half of Britain's wasteful water companies will not be asked to reduce their leakages at all before 2015, regulators admitted on Tuesday.
The nation may be in the grip of the worst drought in 25 years but figures from Ofwat showed that companies across England and Wales leaked more than 3.3 billion litres a day during 2010/11.
And as it issued a feeble call on companies to "step up to the plate" and cut their water waste the watchdog also revealed that the entire industry is set to cut leakage by a mere 1.5 per cent over the next three years.
In addition, it emerged that eight out of 21 privateers have been set zero reduction of leaks targets in that period.
The firms include Yorkshire Water, which missed its 2010/11 targets and was forced to spend an additional £33 million on leak repairs, and Southern Water, which had to pay £5m back to customers after missing its latest leak target by 16 per cent.
Shadow water minister Gavin Shuker said the "vested interests" of water companies meant leaks were not being repaired.
"It costs more to repair leaks than the immediate value of the water itself, so while it makes sense for a water company to ignore leaks, it certainly doesn't stack up in the long term for us, the consumers, or for our environment," he said.
Mr Shuker slammed the government's decision to drop its water Bill from the Queen's Speech on Wednesday.
"What will it take to ensure ministers start holding these offshore-owned water companies to account?" he demanded.
Tony Smith of the Consumer Council for Water added: "Ofwat's approach to setting leakage targets needs to recognise customers' perception that water companies are not doing enough about their leaky pipes.
"It's not just about economics. The negative perception of leakage is the biggest barrier to customers doing more to save water."
The industry was privatised under Thatcher's government in 1989, with 21 companies now having local monopolies on water provision.
They made a total of £2bn in pre-tax profits in 2010-11 while average household bills for water has gone up by £64 since 2001 to £376 - and leaks have only been reduced by 5 per cent in the last 13 years.
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