How to use less water: Switching to a water meter
- Will a water meter help save you water and cut bills?
- Who can get a water meter installed?
- How often do you need to take a water meter reading?
- Could you be forced to have a water meter?
What is a water meter?
A water meter works in the same way as a gas or electricity meter. It records the amount of water you use so your bills are based on your actual usage rather than the traditional flat charge based on the value of your property.
According to water industry regulator Ofwat, around 40% of customers in England and Wales already pay for metered water, but targets have been set for water companies to increase this figure to 50% by 2015, and the government wants water meters installed in most British homes by 2020.
Will a water meter save me money?
Possibly - Ofwat says in general, single occupiers are most likely to benefit from a water meter and large families may be worse off with a meter.
Costs charged for water vary between water companies and the financial benefits of installing a water meter depend on what you pay now, the number of people in your house and how much water you use. But Ofwat estimates metering can reduce household water consumption by 9% to 21%. On an average bill of £356 this is a potential saving of up to £74.
You can estimate your likely metered water charges using the Consumer Council for Water's water meter calculator.
Some individual water companies also have online calculators to help you estimate how much water you use. If you receive two bills from different companies, one for water supply and the other for sewerage charges, you'll first need to find out the name of the relevant tariffs from each company for each service.
How do I get a water meter?
Contact your water company to arrange a home assessment to decide whether a meter can be installed. Some companies prefer to fit a meter inside the home while others prefer to install in a box outside.
Your water company should then read the meter at least once a year. You can also read the meter yourself to check your bills and keep an eye on how much you’re using. In most cases, you can trial a water meter free of charge for up to a year, then decide to switch back to the old rateable charge if you find you're spending more money.
Your water rights
- You can ask your water company to install a water meter free of charge.
- You have the right to revert back to receiving an unmeasured bill within 12 months of the meter being fitted.
- If you can’t have a meter fitted, you can ask your company to base your bill on an assessed charge (your water company will be able to give you more information).
I've moved into a home with a water meter - do I have to have metered bills?
If you move into a property where there is already a water meter, you will not be able to have it uninstalled or revert to paying water rates.
Do I have to pay for a water meter if I want one?
- England and Wales- Most homes in England and Wales are entitled to a free meter, and companies are expected to fit them within three months of you requesting one. However, a water company can refuse to install a meter if it would be unreasonably expensive or impractical to do so.
- Scotland- In Scotland, households can choose to have a meter installed on the water supply to their property at their own expense. Scottish Water will provide the meter but all other costs involved in creating the space for the meter to be installed must be met by you. If you don't own the property you live in, you must have the owner's permission to do this.
- Northern Ireland- Residents of Northern Ireland don't pay water rates.
Do I have to get a water meter?
For now, no - not unless you want one. But there are certain exceptions where you may be obliged to have a water meter installed.
Your company can choose to install a meter at your property. However, it can only charge you using the meter if you:
- have a power shower, extra large bath or 'automatic' watering device such as a lawn sprinkler
- automatically fill a swimming pool at your property
- use a reverse osmosis water softening unit
- live in a water stressed area (see below) where the government has allowed compulsory metering as part of a plan to maintain secure water supplies.
If you live in an area that has been classified as a 'water stressed' region - an area the Environment Agency deems to be particularly short of water then your water company can ask the government for permission to enforce water metering to help manage supplies. Parts of the south east covered by Southern Water are currently classified as water stressed.
Other proposals that have been suggested include targeting compulsory metering in areas where water shortages are most severe, encouraging people to install a water meter voluntarily and capping bills for low income households to ensure they don't end up paying more should compulsory metering be introduced.
Is there anything else I should know about water meters?
Industry watchdog the Consumer Council for Water says some people who have a water meter can request a capped bill if they receive specific benefits or tax credits and can’t avoid using a lot of water because they have three or more dependent children.
This also applies if you have a medical condition specified by the government - contact your water company for more details.