Millions of households in England may have to install water meters under proposals being considered by the government.
Environment minister Ian Pearson is launching a consultation on an extension of metering, designed to bring water use down following the drought that affected much of southern England this summer.
This year’s drought was one of the worst for a century. Measures were introduced across the South East to restrict water usage and preserve supplies and at one time the Environment Agency warned that standpipes were a possibility.
The new government proposals, which could come into effect next year, would make it easier for water companies to apply for ‘water scarcity status’.
This would allow them to make it compulsory for customers to install water meters, costing households around £40.
The plan was set out in May in a paper by the Water Saving Group, which brings together the government and representatives of water customers, regulators and the industry.
The paper warned: ‘Proposals for compulsory metering in water company areas will be controversial and need to be open to public scrutiny. Due consideration needs to be given to the potential impact on customers.’
At present, some 26 per cent of households have water meters and evidence from trials on the Isle of Wight in the 1990s suggests that they can help bring water usage down by 10 – 15 per cent.
Consumer Council for Water spokesman Andrew Marsh said the proposals were a ‘common sense’ response to water shortages of the type seen this year.
But he said that any introduction of compulsory metering should be accompanied by ‘substantial’ financial support for the less well-off – particularly large low-income families, who can be expected to lose out from the switch.
‘This is a common sense approach because they are concentrating on areas which are generally water-scarce, not just those which had a drought this summer.
He added: ‘Hand in hand with any compulsory metering, we would want some sort of substantial financial support programme. There has to be concern about larger low-income families who would need transitional support.’