Will a water meter save you money?

Water bills are firmly in the headlines with the news that Thames Water customers face a potential price hike. The firm has made an application to the regulator, Ofwat, to increase its prices next year by almost 13%.

Water bill woman checking bills

In 2009, Ofwat set limits on prices for the period 2010-2015, but Thames Water says it needs the money to cover a rise in bad debt, and costs such as buying land linked to the Thames Tideway Tunnel. If its proposals get the go-ahead, they could see the average water and sewerage bill in the Thames area increase from £354 to almost £400, according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), which points out that other water companies absorbed extra cost without applying for a further price increase.

Ofwat says it plans to challenge these proposals and that increases will only be allowed if they are fully justified.

While the latest announcement from Thames Water is particularly bad news for consumers in London and the Thames Valley, hard-pressed households across the UK struggling to make ends meet will welcome any measures that could help reduce their outlay. Homes in England and Wales have already had to cope with rises this year, as most water companies hiked water bills on April 1, by an average of 3.5% for water and sewerage.

One of the issues when it comes to water bills is the fact it’s not possible to switch to a cheaper provider as you would with your energy supplier. Instead, the best option might be to have a water meter installed instead.

Figures from Ofwat show more than 40% of households currently have a meter. Here we look at whether or not you can save money by getting a meter installed.

Q. How are my water bills calculated?

A. If you don’t have a meter, you will normally be charged a fixed or flat amount each year – known as “unmetered” charges. The amount you are charged is not based on usage. Instead, it is usually based on where you live and the rateable value of your property.  Your bill is usually made up of various charges including a standing charge for water, and a charge for collecting and treating your dirty water.

Q. What happens if I get a meter installed?

A. A water meter is similar to a gas or electricity meter, and getting one installed means you’ll be charged for the amount you actually use, rather than charged a fixed annual amount. Cutting back on the amount you use will therefore save you money, making this a much fairer way of billing customers.

Q. Can everyone save money by having a meter installed?

A. No. As a rule of thumb, a water meter could be more effective if there are more bedrooms than people in your household. This could be, for example, if you are two people living in a four-bed family home.
By contrast, for larger families, being on a water meter may not be cost-effective as your water consumption will probably be high. To find out more about whether you can potentially save money, make use of the CCW calculator.

Q. How much can I save with a meter?

A. Having a water meter installed can mean a saving of £50-100 a year. Some households could save more.

Q. What happens if I switch to a meter but don’t save money?

A. If you switch to a water meter and find you are not saving money, you can switch back to unmeasured charging within 12 months.

Q. Do I have to pay to get a meter installed?

A. No, if you’re in England or Wales, where installation is free (you might have to contribute in Scotland). In the first instance, you simply need to contact your water company to arrange a home assessment to determine whether a meter can be installed. If it can, you should have a meter installed within three months of you requesting one.

Tenants in rented accommodation can also ask for a meter – but it’s worth checking with your landlord first.

Q. What happens if a meter can’t be fitted at my home?

A. If the company find a meter can’t be fitted at your property, they must offer to switch you to an alternative assessed charge instead. This is an estimate of what your water bill might have been had a meter been installed.

Q. What if you are a Thames Water customer?

A. If you are a Thames Water customer, the same advice applies in regard to finding out if a meter can save you money. Once again, make use of the calculator – and if you’ve got any questions or concerns over the proposed hikes, contact Thames Water.

Q. What if I’m struggling to pay my water bill?

A. If you’re having difficulties affording your bill, contact your water company, as the supplier may offer to help with special payment arrangements, or, in some cases, reduced rates and assistance schemes.

It’s also worth noting that certain customers who have a meter and three or more dependent children and who receive income-related benefits may be eligible for assistance under the WaterSure scheme for vulnerable individuals. There’s more information here.

Q. How can I save money on my water bills once I’ve got a meter?

A. There are plenty of water-saving steps you can take to keep a lid on consumption:

  • take a shower rather than a bath – and also look into fitting a shower timer or an eco-shower head which uses less water than a normal shower.
  • fit a dual-flush or hippo into the toilet cistern to save water when flushing
  • turn the taps off when brushing your teeth
  • make sure there are no dripping taps in your home
  • only use the washing machine and dishwasher when there is a full load
  • collect rain-water in a water butt and then use this to wash your car or water your garden.

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

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