Get help with your water bill: ways to save

Water dap, symbolising home water bills

With growing numbers of households struggling to pay their water bills, we explain how to get help with your water bill, the freebies to cut use, and where to go for financial support.

Research from water industry regulator Ofwat found that around a quarter of households (23%) are currently having issues with paying their water bills. 

This is a result of high inflation and rising costs, as bills rose by an average of £94 a year in January across England and Wales.

Here we explain how your water bills are calculated, if it’s cheaper to switch to a water meter, if you qualify for a social tariff, and how to get help with your water bill. 

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How are your water bills calculated?

When it comes to the way you pay for water, you can be billed in two ways in England and Wales.

  • Fixed water rates. Paying a fixed price each year – known as ‘rateable’ billing. This is when bills are based on both the size of your home and where you live.
  • Water meter. Another way of calculating your bills is by using a water meter, which means you only pay for the water you use. Newer homes come with water meters installed. Find out how to read your water meter.

Bills usually also include a sewerage charge, which covers the cost of maintaining sewer pipes and getting rid of sewage. The average £448 water bill typically includes £215 for water costs and £233 for sewerage. 

Unlike electricity and gas suppliers (see how to do an energy comparison), you can’t switch providers to get a better deal. What you can change though is the way you are billed to possibly make a saving. 

It’s different in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you’re in Scotland, you’ll be billed for your water by your local authority together with your council tax. There are no water charges for households in Northern Ireland.

Is a water meter cheaper?

Water meter

There is a simple calculation that can help you decide if a water meter is worth considering. Our rule of thumb is:

If you have more bedrooms than the number of people living in your home – or the same number – you may be able to save by switching to a water meter.

This is because your water company would be assuming you have a full house using a lot of water, so would bill you accordingly.

To find out if you could save, plug your details into the Consumer Council for Water’s (CCW) free water meter calculator which helps you estimate your annual water use, to see whether you would be better off switching to a meter. 

If it looks like you’d be better off on a water meter, you can ask your water supplier to install a meter for free. They should do this, as long as it’s practical.

Not sure who to contact? Find out the contact details for your water supplier.

Refused a water meter? Get an assessed bill

Regulator Ofwat says your water company can refuse to install a water meter at your property if it’s not practical or is too expensive for it to fit one.

If you can’t have a water meter installed, your water company must offer you an assessed charge. The way assessed charges are set varies per supplier, but it’s generally based on one of the following:

  • The number of bedrooms in your property
  • The type of property you live in
  • The number of people who live in your property
  • The average metered bill in the water company’s area

You can usually switch back to an unmetered bill within two years

If you ask your supplier for a water meter, but then find you’re paying more this way, you can ask to go back to your old billing system. 

Depending on your supplier, you usually need to do this within one to two years of having the meter fitted (For eg, South West Water’s reverting period is two years). However, if you later decide to try a water meter for a second time, you can’t switch back again.

Switching back means your meter won’t be used for your bills, but it’s unlikely to be taken away.

Check your eligibility for a social tariff to get a water bill discount

If your income is below about £21,000 a year, you may be eligible for a social tariff which can reduce your water bill by as much as 90%.

It’s offered by all water companies and is done by lowering or capping your bill amount regardless of whether you have a water meter. Although some may need you to be on certain benefits.  

Over 1.3 million low income households benefitted from bill reductions through social tariffs in 2022-23. This is an increase of 19% on the previous year.

In spite of this, CCW reported in December 2023 that as many as 2 million eligible customers haven’t claimed. Each of these households are missing out on savings of around £160 a year. 

How do I apply?

To apply, you need to contact your water company, who will then assess your circumstances to ensure that you get the support you’re entitled to. 

Here’s a full list of social tariffs available from each water company:

Water Company and scheme Eligibility criteria What support you can receive
Affinity Water - Lift You have a household income of £18,725 a year or less, excluding benefits OR You receive one of these: Income related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Job Seeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit, Universal Credit, Pension Credit. Annual bill capped at £119.50 (£79.70 if you get Council Tax Reduction/Support)
Anglian Water - LITE or Extra LITE You need to have your finances assessed. Up to 50% off annual bill
Bournemouth Water - WaterCare You need to be on a meter or assessed charges AND You or someone in your home receives one of means-tested benefit AND Your 'equivalised' weekly income, after housing costs, must be less than £295 (1) AND Your water bill should represent more than 5% of your equivalised income after housing costs. Between 15% and 85% off annual bill
Bristol Water - Assist You need to be on a low income and have your finances assessed. If all adults in your household receive Pension Credit, you may qualify for a discount of about 20% off your bill. Up to 88% off annual bill
Cambridge Water - Assure You receive Pension Credit 'guarantee element' OR You have a household income of £19,050 a year or less, excluding certain benefits (2). 60% bill reduction in first year, 40% reduction in subsequent years (3)
Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water - Helpu You receive an income-related benefit and have a household income (excluding certain benefits) of less than: £10,700 a year for a household of one, £16,000 a year for a household of two, £17,700 a year for a household of three or more Annual bill capped at £291.30
Essex and Suffolk - SupportPlus You have a household income of £17,005 a year (£21,749 a year in London) or less, and your annual water bill is more than 3% of your net household income (after housing costs, rent or mortgage payments) OR Someone in your household receives Pension Credit, and your annual water bill is 3% or more of your net household income (after housing costs, rent or mortgage payments). Up to 50% off annual bill
Hafren Dyfrdwy - Here2Help You have a household income of £20,048 a year or less and no dependants, £22,048 or less and 1-2 dependants, or £24,048 and 3+ dependants. Up to 90% off annual bill
Northumbrian - SupportPlus If your total household income is less than £17,005, and your annual water and sewerage bill is more than 3% of your net household income (after housing costs, rent or mortgage payments) or, If someone in your household receives Pension Credit, and your annual water and sewerage bill is 3% or more of your net household income (after housing costs, rent or mortgage payments) Up to 50% off annual bill
Portsmouth - Helping Hand tariff You have a household income of £17,005 a year or less, excluding certain benefits. Annual bill capped at minimum charge - currently £88.53
SES - Water Support You have a household income of £17,005 a year (or £21,749 a year if you live in a London borough), or less. Up to 50% off annual bill
Severn Trent - Big Difference You have a household income of £20,048 a year or less. Those with child dependants may be eligible for an additional income allowance. Up to 70% off average annual bill
South East Water - The Social Tariff You have a household income of £18,005 a year or less, excluding certain benefits. Annual bill capped at £174.66 or £140.36, depending on where you live (contacted for latest figures)
Southern Water - Essentials tariff You have a household income of less than £21,000 (excluding certain benefits) and you have savings of less than £16,000 OR Someone in your household receives Pension Credit. Between 45% and 90% discount on annual bill (contacted for latest figures)
South Staffs - Assure You receive the Pension Credit 'guarantee element' OR You have a household income of less than £19,050 a year, excluding certain benefits (2). 60% bill reduction in first year, 40% reduction in subsequent years (3)
South West - WaterCare You'll need to be on a meter or on assessed charges AND You or someone in your home receives one means-tested benefit AND Your 'equivalised' weekly income, after housing costs, must be less than £295 AND Your bill should represent more than 5% of your equivalised income after housing costs. Between 15% and 85% off annual bill
Thames Water - WaterHelp You have a household income of less than £17,005 a year (£21,749 a year in London), excluding disability benefits. Up to 50% off annual bill
United Utilities - Help to Pay - Back on Track You must receive at least one income-related benefit AND Be in arrears with previous years' water charges or have a household income of less than £21,000 a year (if applying due to a recent life event) OR You receive Pension Credit. Annual bill capped between £96 and £516. For those eligible for Help to Pay, annual bill capped at £270 for single occupiers or £384 for two or more occupiers.
Wessex Water - Assist A low rate tariff based on your ability to pay. Visit wessexwater.co.uk/help-to-pay. Up to 90% off annual bill
Yorkshire Water - WaterSupport You're on a low income with an annual bill of more than £350. Annual bill capped at £350

Table correct December 2023

(1) ‘Equivalised income’ is adjusted to reflect the size of a household. For example, an income of £200 is worth more to a single person than it would be to a family with three children.
(2) If you have a dependent child living at your address, an additional allowance of £1,500 per child may be added to the household income threshold amount of £19,050 per year.
(3) If your household is temporarily receiving no income while waiting for a Universal Credit application to be processed, you’ll get a 100% discount for eight weeks. The 60% reduction will then apply for the remainder of the first year. 

On benefits and need to use a lot of water? You could have bills capped through WaterSure scheme

If you have a water meter, are on selected benefits and need to use a high amount of water – for medical reasons or as you have 3+ kids in your home – you can get a water bill discount through the WaterSure scheme. This is available through all water companies and limits your to an amount equal to the average bill in your area.  

All suppliers offer WaterSure if either you or someone in your household get one of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit
  • Pension Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Income Support
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Child Tax Credit (except families in receipt of the family element only)

You can apply by filling out a form from your water company. You’ll need proof of the benefits you are receiving and will need to be responsible for three or more children under the age of 19 and in full-time education living in the property; or have a medical condition which requires significant additional use of water, or someone living with you has this condition.

How to get water-saving freebies

Drain in the sink with sieve

You may be surprised to hear you can often get free water-saving devices from your water supplier. These can include shower heads and tap inserts – that help regulate the water flow – along with shower timers and devices to help detect small water leaks.

The freebies are funded by the water companies, but water efficiency firm Save Water Save Money manages the distribution of them.

How to get your freebie (it’s one per household) depends on which water company you are with: 

  • If your water company is Bristol Water or South East Water, you can get freebies via this Save Water Save Money link. Enter your postcode in the ‘free water-saving devices’ box to see what is available. They even have a kids’ ‘toothy timer’, and a range of appliances you can use for your entire household. Enter your details and receive them for free within 28 days.
  • If you’re with Bournemouth Water, Cambridge Water, Dwr Cymru, Guernsey Water, Hafren Dyfrdwy, Portsmouth Water, SES Water, Severn Trent, South Staffs Water, South West Water, Wessex Water, NI Water, Jersey Water, Scottish Water, United Utilities, or Yorkshire Water, you need to use Save Water Save Money’s Get Water Fit savings calculator to be able to access the freebies, which include replacement shower heads and timers.
  • If your water company is Affinity Water, Anglian, Essex & Suffolk, Southern Water or Northumbrian, you can sometimes get freebies such as shower timers, sink strainers or tap inserts directly from their websites.
  • Unfortunately, Thames Water no longer offers any freebies, so you’ll need to find your own ways to save water, or buy your own water-saving gadgets.

Making a change could pay off. The Energy Savings Trust says if a typical family replaced their inefficient shower head with a water efficient one, they could save around £30 off their gas bills and around £30 off their water bills (if they have a water meter) each year. So a total saving of around £60.

Struggling to pay your water bills?

Given the stresses we are all feeling financially, with high inflation and rising household bills, a lot of us are struggling. 

Not everyone is aware that support is available from water suppliers, and that you can speak to your water company if you’re worried about paying your water bill. Depending on your situation, they may be able to offer payment breaks or help with grants or repayment plans.

Claire Forbes, senior director of corporate communications at regulator Ofwat, said it was clear that support for struggling households was “still not reaching those who need it the most”, and warned suppliers there will be consequences if they do not up their game.

If you live in England and Wales, you can find who your water supplier is by entering your postcode. If you live in Scotland you should contact Scottish Water, and Northern Ireland Water if you live in Northern Ireland.

If you’re also struggling with other household utilities, find out how to get help with your energy bills.

Easy ways to cut your water bills

If you are on a water meter, cutting down on your use can mean big savings on your bills. And even if you are not on a water meter, as much of the water we use is heated, cutting back will help save on your energy bills. And of course, using less water also helps the environment.   

There are a huge number of things you can do to limit your water usage, but here are some top tips to get your started:

  • Change your shower head: Upgrading your shower head to an energy-efficient one can save the average family £60 a year, based on both energy and water bills.
  • Turn off taps: Brushing your teeth under a running tap wastes over five litres of water a minute. And fix leaky taps. A dripping tap wastes over 5,300 litres of water a year.
  • Wash at 30 degrees: Set the washing machine to 30 degrees Celsius and cut back on one load a week to save £34 a year on both water and energy bills.
  • Don’t overfill the kettle: Most kettles have ‘cup’ markings, so you can see how much water you need rather than filling the kettle every time. Overfilling wastes water and energy. Boiling what you need saves £6 a year.
  • Take shorter showers: Shave one minute off shower time every day and a family of four can save £45 a year on metered water bills and £52 on energy bills. Find out if taking a shower or a bath is cheaper.
  • Fill the dishwasher: Wait until the dishwasher is full before switching it on and use the ‘eco’ cycle for the most energy-efficient setting, to save on dishwasher costs.