How much money can you save with a water meter?

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The rise in the number of households with just one or two people has meant that many can save money by having a water meter installed. Find out if you can save and whether you can have a water meter installed.

If you don’t have a water meter, your bill is based on the rateable value of your property, which takes account of factors such as its size and location (in Scotland, it’s based on your council tax band). With a water meter, you pay for the water you use, plus a fixed amount for standing charges. So could you save money with one?

Who can save the most?
The amount you could save will depend on how many of you live in the property, how much water you normally use and your current water bill. The OFWAT website has information about unmetered charges on its website.

As a very rough guide:

– If you’re paying a high water bill (over £400), you may be able to save money if there are three of you (or fewer).

SAVVY TIP: Obviously, a lot will depend on who makes up the household. If you have young children and use the washing machine on a daily basis, you probably won’t save anything.

– If you pay £300 or more a year, you may be able to save money if there are two of you or fewer.

SAVVY TIP: It’s worth knowing that you can have a water meter installed if you live in a rented property, but you should tell your landlord. If you have a shorthold tenancy of less than six months, you must get your landlord’s permission in writing.

– If your water bill is £200 plus a year and you live on your own, you should be better off with a water meter.

SAVVY TIP: In some cases, the savings may be pretty small (£30 a year or less). But if you currently pay £500 a year and there’s only two of you, you could save around £130 or more. Your water company should have an online calculator to help you work out how much you could save. Otherwise, the Consumer Council for Water has an online water calculator with information on charges for all the companies. It’s a bit fiddly so you may prefer the one supplied by your own water provider.

Can I have a meter?
Just because you want a water meter doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to have one. Water suppliers have their own policies about which properties are suitable for water meters and which aren’t.

SAVVY TIP: The regulator’s guidelines only say that companies should fit a meter unless it’s ‘impractical for them to do so’, which gives them quite a lot of room for manoeuvre.

You may be refused a water meter if you live in:

– A block of flats: New flats tend to have separate water supplies but old ones and conversions often have a shared supply.

SAVVY TIP: Several water companies say they cannot fit a water meter to older blocks of flats or conversions, although not all have this policy. For example, Yorkshire Water said it could fit water meters to flats.

– Terraced houses: Some terraced houses share a water supply with one or more neighbours.

SAVVY TIP: If you’re prepared to pay to have your water supply separated, you should be able to have a water meter fitted. It might be worth finding out what this would cost.

– Properties where the water pipe is boxed in. Some water companies prefer to install water meters in the kitchen (while others install it outside), which may mean taking out some kitchen units.

SAVVY TIP: Different water companies take a different approach. Some won’t fit a water meter, some will fit it if you take out the kitchen units, some will do some minor joinery work (and not charge you for it) and others will fit the meter elsewhere, which they may or may not charge you for. Phew!

What are my options if I can’t have a meter?
If you can’t have a water meter, you may not be able to save any money. You have the right to ask for an assessed charge. The Ofwat website has information about assessed charges.

The approach varies from company to company. Your water bill may be worked out on the basis of:

– How many bedrooms your property has.
– The type of property you live in (detached, semi detached etc).
– An average water bill.
– Your own water usage.

SAVVY TIP: If you live on your own in a two or three bedroom property, you’re unlikely to be helped by the assessed charge unless it’s based on how much water you use. Ask your water company if it has a special rate for single occupancy. Some do, although the Consumer Council for Water believes it’s something all companies should provide.

Can I go back to an unmetered bill?
If you’re not making savings (or not making the savings you expect) you can go back to unmetered bills as long as you contact your water company within 12 months (or within 30 days of your second bill).

SAVVY TIP: The water meter won’t be removed and when sell your home, the new owners will have to have metered bills. You probably won’t be able to go back to unmetered bills if your property now meets your water company’s criteria for compulsory meters – for example, if you have a swimming pool or garden sprinkler.

Who has to have a water meter fitted?
Properties built since April 1990 may be fitted with a water meter, and there are other circumstances in which a water company can force you to have a water meter fitted. These include:

– Using a garden sprinkler (one that’s not hand held)
– Having a swimming pool (the company may specify the size or simply state that a pool that fills automatically qualifies)
– Having a power shower
– Living in an area of water scarcity
– Where a property is sold and the new owner hasn’t been issued with a water bill.

SAVVY TIP: Check your water company’s criteria as they do tend to vary from company to company. Most seem to insist on water meters where there’s a swimming pool or where you use an automatic garden sprinkler.

Related articles:

Saving money and energy around the home

Can you switch supplier if you’re on a prepayment gas or electricity meter?

How to complain to your energy company

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