Can you cut your water bills?

Water bills will rise by an average 3.5% over the next year, according to regulator Ofwat, adding to the misery of households already squeezed by rising energy and fuel prices.

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But the latest hike in household bills is even more of a wrench as, while you might be happy to suffer a cold house in a bid to beat energy price hikes, when it comes to water it’s more difficult to cut back on usage.

Also, you can’t switch your water supplier in the same way you can switch your energy supplier as – quite simply – water doesn’t travel that far so will have to come from your local water company. However, there are other things you can do to make sure you’re paying for your water in the most efficient way possible.

Here’s a look at why water rates are going up, as well as how you can fight back and keep the costs down.

Why are prices rising?

According to Ofwat, the average household water bill in England and Wales is forecast to increase by around £13 between April 2013 and March 2014, taking the average total up to £388.

The increases are designed to help pay for a £25billion investment programme over the next three years, which promises improvements to the country’s water infrastructure.

Around 10,000km of water mains will be improved or replaced and work will be carried out at 140 water treatments works and 550 sewage treatment works to improve drinking water quality.

According to Ofwat, this means that 10million people will be better protected against disruption to water supplies caused by flooding, along with 6,300 homes affected by sewer flooding.

In 2009, water companies told Ofwat they wanted price hikes of 10%, but the regulator said they could only increase prices in line with inflation. Since 2009, the average bill has risen by slightly below the rate of inflation (0.7%).

The new charges will take effect from April 1 and will vary, depending on your supplier and whether or not you have a water meter.

What can I do about it?

You can’t switch provider or use a lot less water than you need, but there are ways of keeping water bills fair, or at least offsetting the cost elsewhere.

Almost a 40% of homes in England and Wales have a water meter, where you only pay for the water you use. (There’s an old rule of thumb which says if there are more bedrooms than people in your home, you’ll probably benefit from switching to a water meter.)

The water companies have been set targets to increase this figure to 50% by 2015 and by 2020 the government wants water meters installed in most UK properties.

Ofwat says that installing a meter can reduce water consumption by almost 10%, which could save you £74 on the average bill. The Consumer Council for Water (CCFW) has a calculator which will tell you if you’d benefit from installing a meter here.

If you think a water meter might be right for you, contact your water supplier to arrange a home assessment. Most English and Welsh homes are entitled to a free water meter, but water companies can refuse to install one for free if your home makes installation impractical, or unreasonably expensive.

Scottish households have to pay for water meters to be installed themselves.You may have to contribute towards installation if the water company has to make alterations to the plumbing so that the meter can be fitted. You’ll find more information on that here.

If a water meter won’t work…

Water meters won’t be the cheaper option for every household, though. In fact, larger families could actually be worse off on a water meter.

In that case, you can try to reduce your consumption in a number of ways. There are tons of companies giving away free water-saving widgets which fit easily to your shower heads, taps and toilet cisterns. Visit your water supplier’s website for details.

Then of course there are the classics, like taking short showers instead of baths. Water Wise says a four-minute shower will use 32 litres of water, whereas the average bath will hold 80 litres.

If you’re using a dishwasher, make sure you’re loading it as efficiently as possible and not using washing a half-full load. Also, modern dishwashers are made to deal with a certain level of dinner debris, so don’t waste too much water pre-rinsing plates, dishes and pans.

Offset the cost elsewhere

If you can’t possibly bring your water bills down any more, it’s time to start saving money elsewhere to offset the water price hikes.

Each year, around half of households in the UK are paying an average of £200 more than they need to for gas and electricity, so switching to the cheapest supplier or tariff could more than offset the higher water bills.

Go to our energy channel today and you’ll be able to see just how much money you could save by switching. It takes just a few minutes to make a comparison, it’s free and you’re under no obligation to switch if you don’t see a deal you like.

The switching process itself takes just four to six weeks, and it’ll be handled entirely by your existing supplier and the one you’re switching to. The only difference you’ll ever notice is that the bills start coming from a different company.

There’s no interruption of your supply and there won’t be any workmen digging up any pipes at your home because the switch is a simple administration process.

If that’s not enough, I wrote about a handful of other ways you can slash your energy bills in my article ‘Switch to direct debit on energy bills’.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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