Across the UK, many families are having water meters installed in their home to track the amount of water they use - and change their bill accordingly. If you’re considering switching to a water meter for your home, we’ve put together this guide to help lay out the potential benefits and drawbacks of making the change.
How are water bills calculated?
Traditionally, most families have paid their water bills based on a set price established by their water company, which is related to rateable value of your home, in a similar way to council tax. As these rates were set a long time ago, and are tied to your home rather than the number of people living there and your actual water usage, it can mean you might be paying over the odds for the amount of water you actually use.
However, in recent years, water companies have been rolling out meters, allowing people to be charged a rate that is directly related to the amount of water they use. All new homes are being built with meters as standard. Water companies in areas deemed to be in high water stress have made meters compulsory, with those who refuse being charged a higher tariff. Thames Water, which covers London, says that meters are essential to help manage their prediction that the capital will have a shortfall of 130 million litres of water per day by 2025. Meters can help reduce water usage, as metered customers tend to be conscious of their usage and use less, while they also help water companies spot leaks through the system.
Some groups want to see meters made compulsory across the country, though in most places it is still optional. If you do choose to switch to a water meter, you will have the option of changing back within the first two years, as long as you are not in an area where metering has been made compulsory.
What are the benefits?
Water companies say that most customers who switch to using a meter are more aware of their water usage and use less - around 12% less according to Thames Water, which helps conserve water and is better for the environment.
The main benefit for customers is the opportunity to save money. As a general rule of thumb, if there are fewer people in your home than there are bedrooms, you are likely to save money on your water bills. For example, two four-bedroom homes on the same street are likely to be charged the same water bill if on a fixed rate, due to the value of the properties. However, if the first house only has two people living there, then they will use less water than a family of five in the second house. If this is recorded on a meter, then the first house will end up paying less.
The Consumer Council for Water, the industry watchdog, has a calculator on its website to help you estimate your potential bill, which you can compare to your current rate.
If more people are on a meter it also helps the water companies to monitor demand and notice unusual spikes in usage, which could indicate leaks, and helps to fix these problems more quickly.
Are there any drawbacks?
Although some families stand to save money by switching to a meter, some will find that their bills can actually go up once their usage is being monitored. Larger families in smaller homes are particularly at risk of this, as showers, toilets and appliances like washing machines all contribute heavily to water usage.
Similarly, homes which have items like hot tubs or other garden water features, or homes where people have water-intensive hobbies such as gardening or keeping fish can find that their bills go up when on a meter.
If in doubt, use a calculator like the one above or check the website of your own water provider to see what the likely impact for your home will be.
How can I get one?
If you want to switch to a water meter, contact your water supplier. If you are unsure who supplies your water, check your bill or visit the Consumer Council for Water's site and use their tool. As long as you are not in area where meters have been made compulsory, you will be able to try out a meter for up to two years to see if it saves you money.