Water meters. Not all they’re cracked up to be?

7 November 2014

spring-waterWater meters are, in theory, a sound idea. If you pay for what you use, how can that be wrong? Apparently it can, with a third of people who have switched to water meters wishing they hadn’t.

A poll by money.co.uk found that, not only were a third regretting their decision, only 42% of switchers actually saved money by switching, leaving the logical conclusion that 58% of people are paying more with a meter. Meters are, of course, not compulsory, unless of course you live in a house built after 1990, when installation of water meters in new houses became compulsory to ease the stress on the water supply.

However, more people might be better of with a meter, but because they only get estimated bills once very six months, many householders don’t actually know whether they are better off or not. And it certainly isn’t conducive to making an informed decision whether to switch back to rateable water bills, which must be done within 12 months of having a water meter, or be stuck with it forever.

The poll has prompted some sorts to call for an inquiry into the national roll-out of water meters, which has accelerated over the past 12 months. Last year the Government suggested to nine of the 24 water companies that they might like to consider compulsory metering for all their customers.

Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, said: "The trend across the country has been towards a ‘one size fits all’ mode of more metering. Yet this data blows wide open the assumption that we will all be better off with a meter.

"Less wealthy families living in smaller homes are being ripped off. We now need Ofwat to audit each water supplier’s customer base to find how many households would be better off on rateable bills, and direct that they should be transferred or have their bills capped at this level."

Money.co.uk said those who lost out were £100 worse off on average and that 30% of water companies failed to provide calculators on their websites to show customers whether they would save money.

But isn’t everyone missing the point? Whether you save or lose money with a water meter is dependent on whether you are using more or less than you are currently being charged for. If you ‘lose’ money all it means is that you are now paying for your own water instead of allowing all the other water rate payers to subsidise you…

TOPICS:   Utilities

6 comments

  • Dwr C.
    Water meters will eventually be forced upon everyone by law. Lots of water companies are already fitting them at the street stop cock, even if they aren't utilising them yet. It will all be added onto everyone's bill to help pay for it of course.
  • Mick T.
    "Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, said: “The trend across the country has been towards a ‘one size fits all’ mode of more metering. Yet this data blows wide open the assumption that we will all be better off with a meter." And not taking into account that some regions have an over abundance of water throughout the year and don't need metering to reduce consumption. The South needs Metering, generally speaking the North does not.
  • Allenshouse
    Just had a refund of £1400 from Bristol Water. When they fitted a meter 4 yrs ago they connected it to an adjacent property (doctors surgery) and it transpired I had been charged based upon their usage. In fairness to BW, once we had established the mistake they acted quickly and fairly. The message however is check that the meter is on your supply by running your taps whilst looking at the meter.
  • loafer1946
    As you point out, those who are paying more with a water meter were getting their water at a fixed price based on the council tax. Thus it was cheaper before they had a meter because they weren't paying enough and were getting subsidised. The cost per m3 must be the same, they are now paying a realistic price and should economise like the rest of us who have had water meters for years
  • Kate
    This article ignores the rateable value/metering cross subsidy. The way charges are allocated across customers means that as more customers choose to switch the charges applied to unmeasured customers increases. This is because water companies carry out a calculation of the water balance as part of setting tariffs. In simplistic terms, they know what goes into the system, they know what has been used by measured customers and they have a good idea how much as been lost as leakage. The rest is due to unmeasured use. As low users migrate to meters, the remaining unmeasured population are higher users and therefore the costs recovered from that group are higher. Over time this effect is exaggerated.
  • Alan
    If you live in an area designated by the government as "water stressed", as I do, you will have no choice but to have and pay for metered water. Watch as more and more parts of the country become "water stressed".

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