'Water poverty' fuelled by rising water bill costsWater scarcity may raise bills by 5% per year

21 February 2011

Water coming out of a tap

Universal water metering may be introduced in 2020, but affordability issues - including a rising number of 'water poor' households - should be addressed first, according to a new report.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report - authored by environmental consultancy AEA and the University of Surrey - claims low income families may struggle to pay water bills as companies move away from flat fees and towards tariffs based on water use. 

Some consumers are expected to see their water bills rise by 5%.

The report warns that four million households are already living in 'water poverty', a term applied to those spending at least 3% of their income on water bills, and that homes will be vulnerable if they can't get enough water at an affordable rate.

Water meter charges

While water meters can save money for some, they're not necessarily the best option for all homes. Metering is seen as a way to make us cut back on water use by monetising our consumption, but there's a tension between the twin goals of efficiency and affordability, the report says.

Do you think water meters should be compulsory for all homes? Do you think there's a better way to cut water use? Join the debate at Which? conversation.

Unaffordable water bills

A household's success in cutting water use will depend partly on whether it can invest in and install water-efficient devices. This means low income families already suffering from unaffordable bills may see rising charges without being able to cut down their consumption. 

Lead report author Magnus Benzie says: 'We currently waste a lot of water, so on one level it makes sense to encourage greater efficiency by charging people depending on how much water they use. 

'But some tariffs can put unfair pressure on households that cannot reduce their water consumption, either because of household size, medical needs or an inability to invest in water efficient appliances.'

South west trials new pricing

Water bills in the south west of England are on average 43% higher than in the rest of the country and affordability is already a problem in the area, according to the report.

South West Water is attempting to solve the problem by trialling a new way of pricing its water. The 'Rising Block Tariff' (RBT) provides homes with cheap water for essential use, and consumers can choose whether they also use standard or premium priced water as well.

As the standard and premium blocks are considered surplus to essential requirements, they'll carry a heavier price tag under this new differential water charging.

Cutting water consumption

Which? has a list of the best products for helping to save water, from efficient washing machines to water saving shower heads. Have a look through the water saving products guide for some of the best water saving appliances available.

Some support is available for vulnerable households, but not everyone is eligible under the current schemes. There are simple, cost-free ways to cut down on water consumption if you're not in a position to change your appliances for more water-efficient models. Our guide on how to use less water has tips on how you could save water by making small changes.

Lower your gas and electricity bills

You can compare energy prices and switch to a new gas and electricity supplier on Which? Switch. People who switched with us between 1 October and 31 December 2013 are predicted to save an average of £234 a year on their bills.

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