All homes in the south east of England may be forced to have water meters, according to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.
His comments came as the government announced a new strategy for saving water in England, and tackling the problems of shortages and flooding.
Mr Benn said there was a need for ‘near-universal metering’ by 2030 in areas with severe water shortages. He specifically mentioned the drought in south-east England in 2004 and 2006.
‘The case for metering everywhere is not clear cut but in areas of water stress we need near-universal metering before 2030,’ Mr Benn added.
The government has set out the Future Water strategy to tackle challenges posed by climate change and population increases.
The government says its strategy aims to:
- reduce water usage by 30 litres per person per day by 2030, to 120 litres
- look at metering and tariffs for water to reduce usage and ensure a fair payment system
- remove phosphates from washing powders to cut pollution
- require householders to get planning permission for paving their front gardens, unless they use materials that allow surface water to soak away instead of flowing into sewers.
With an increasing gap between bills for those with meters and those without, Mr Benn also said a review of water charges would need to consider how to protect vulnerable groups such as those on low incomes and the elderly.
He said: ‘Some 30% of households have a meter and all new houses are having meters installed as a matter of course. We know that it reduces demand by about 10% which is really important in areas of water stress.’
The Consumer Council for Water welcomed the strategy, but wanted measures put in place to protect vulnerable customers before metering is expanded.
Dame Yve Buckland, National Chair, said: ‘We understand why the government is proposing an expansion of metering in areas of water stress. However, there are only very limited safety nets in place for those already struggling to pay their water bills.’