Should I get a water meter?

Water meter

If you’re on a fixed water rate, is it better and cheaper to switch to a water meter, paying for your actual usage? Here are the benefits and disadvantages.

Water bills come in two main types. You pay a fixed rate – in other words an unmeasured charge – which is usually estimated based on the size of your home. Otherwise you pay based on what you use, which is calculated with a water meter.

With costs rising we ask which is cheaper: pitting a water meter against fixed rates. It’s also a good time to review how much you’re paying and how to get help with your water bill.

How much am I paying for my water?

As with seemingly everything, the cost of running water is on the rise. In April, the annual average water bill went up by £31 to £448 in England and Wales – a hike of 7.5%. That’s around £37.30 a month.

That equates to an extra 60p per week for many homes, putting more pressure on household budgets. As such, it’s worth considering whether having a water meter could be an effective money-saving measure.

To see how much you’re paying for water in your area, and how much your bills have gone up, check out the average water bill in the UK. And if you’re not sure who your provider is, find out who your water supplier is and what they do

Is it better to have a water meter than to pay fixed rates?

Having a water meter means you only pay for the water you use. And if you’re paying by usage, then it becomes easier to monitor how much you’re using and reduce waste by looking at your water meter reading

So how do you decide if a water meter’s right for you?

As a rule of thumb, if there are more bedrooms in your home than people, or the same number, it’s worth considering getting a meter.

To expand on this, it’s about how big your household is, but also your lifestyle. But how much water does your household use? Ask yourself these questions:

  • How many people live in my household? 
  • How many showers do we take per day?
  • Am I frequently using thirsty appliances, such as dishwashers?

If you live alone or there are two of you in a large house or flat, it’ll most likely work out cheaper if you only pay for the water you use, as it shouldn’t be a large amount.

According to Thames Water research, customers with a water meter typically use around 13% less water.

There are other benefits too. For example, keeping an eye on a meter helps you to spot leaks quicker. And if you need to claim leakage allowance – the cost of the leaked water you can claim back – this will make the process significantly easier.

Please note that if you’re moving house and the property already has a meter installed, you won’t be able to get it removed.

How much SHOULD I be paying for my water? Use a water meter calculator to find out

For a better idea of whether you’d save money by switching to a water meter, use the free water meter calculator on the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) website. It helps you estimate your household’s annual water use.

You’ll be asked questions about your water usage, including:

  • Number of baths and showers taken per week
  • Number of toilet flushes per day
  • How frequently you use a washing machine and/or dishwasher
  • Your annual hosepipe use

This’ll then give your estimated annual water bill. If it’s less than what you’re paying at the moment, then switching to a water meter could save you money. Plus – if you find you don’t save money – you have two years in which you can go back to an unmetered supply.

How is an unmeasured charge calculated?

If you don’t have a water meter, you’ll pay an unmeasured charge. There are a few ways that your water bill may be calculated:

  • Flat rate charge. This is where all of a supplier’s customers will be charged the same rate, regardless of where they live or the type of property.
  • Assessed volume charge. This is usually based on the size and type of property, and the number of occupants.
  • Rateable value. This is based on how much properties in England and Wales could be let for, before April 1990.

Calculating a water bill either with a flat charge or rateable value are the least scientific methods. As such, this may lead to the following situations:

  • Two people living in a four-bedroom house would be better off with a water meter. This is because they’ll only be charged for the water they use, so it’ll be more pricey to pay based on rateable value, for example.
  • Four people living in a two-bedroom house may be better off on an unmeasured charge, as they might be charged based on the rateable value, rather than how many people are in the home.

So if the property has a high rateable value, and this is how you’re billed, it may well be worth switching to metered water billing.

Paying an unmeasured charge does come with its pros. For example, there are no surprises around the corner when it comes to paying your water bill. And there may be some situations where it works out cheaper. But this is often a roll of a dice.

How to switch to a water meter

If you’re not on a water meter but want to make the switch, you need to contact your water supplier. You can find contact details for your water supplier here. This’ll get the process started.

It’s free to get a water meter installed inside or outside your home if you live in England or Wales.

However, if you live in Scotland, getting a water meter installed can be costly. If you live in Northern Ireland, there are no domestic water charges.

Refused a water meter? Ask for assessed charges

If you live in England or Wales, your water supplier must install a free water meter if you request it. 

The company might refuse. This may happen it’s impractical or too expensive to fit one, such as if you share pipes with other flats.

If you can’t switch, your water provider should be able to put you on assessed charges. There are, in effect, cheaper tariffs for those who can’t have a meter installed.

These are likely to be based on how many people live in your home, but may also be calculated on the number of bedrooms in the property, the type of property or the average metered bill in the area.

If they don’t offer a bill based on assessed charges, you should request it. If they don’t act on this request, you should escalate it to Ofwat, which regulates the water sector in England and Wales.

Switching to a water meter: What’s the verdict?

The bottom line is, there’s no one answer for everyone, and much of it will depend on your circumstances. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons:

Benefits of having a water meter

  • Great for households with low water usage.
  • It’s easier to reduce your bills through changing your habits.
  • Similarly, getting in the habit of using less water is better for the environment.
  • You could be paying less if your property has a high rateable value.
  • You may be able to detect leaks earlier.
  • You can change your mind within two years if you find you’re not saving money.

Disadvantages of having a water meter

  • Fixed-rate customers know what they’re paying each billing period, meaning there are no surprises.
  • It’s more expensive if you’re a high-volume water user.
  • Once the water meter is installed, after two years you’re locked in.
  • Having a water meter may potentially put property buyers off, especially if the home is family-sized.

Either way, if it means saving money, it’s definitely worth doing your homework thoroughly. And be sure to use a water meter calculator to help with the decision.

How do I find my water meter?

If you already have a water meter, but aren’t sure where it is, check out our guide to taking a water meter reading. This should help point you in the right direction.

Tips for reducing water usage

Regardless of how you pay for your water, it’s always a good idea to reduce water usage. After all, it’s more eco-conscious, and a good habit to get into to help reduce your water bill.

So here are some simple day-to-day tips for keeping your water usage low:

  • Take shorter showers. If you find it difficult to time yourself, try showering until a song stops playing and mark that as your time to switch the water off. According to the Energy Saving Trust, using a four-minute timer for your shower could help you better understand how long you’re spending in the shower, and save up to 30 litres a day. 
  • Switch from baths to showers. Yorkshire Water says taking five showers instead of three baths can save you around £189 a year on your water bill. 
  • Switch the tap off when brushing your teeth. This way you save unnecessary water loss.
  • Switch the shower off when scrubbing. The same goes when showering: when you’re scrubbing you can turn the water off and switch it back on to rinse off. Obviously this will depend on your shower!
  • Be conscious of water usage when washing the dishes. If you wash dishes by hand and use running water, this can be costly. Either try using a washing-up bowl or scrub the dishes with the tap off, and then turn on the water to rinse. And if you have a dishwasher, this can be more efficient than washing by hand.

How to save money on your water bill

Besides getting a water meter and reducing your usage accordingly, there may be other ways to reduce your bill.

For example, there may be water-saving freebies you can apply for to help reduce usage.

If you or someone you live with has a medical condition or disability which leads to high water usage, you may qualify for the WaterSure scheme. This puts a cap on your usage, meaning you won’t have to pay more than the average household in your area.

Find out other ways to get help with your water bill.

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