Water bills: don’t splash the cash

Published by Esther Shaw on 25 May 2018.
Last updated on 25 May 2018

Water from a tap

If you pay for your water supply, then you may want to consider having a meter installed. It could boost your household finances

Water bills are on the up, following increases at the start of April which saw the average water and sewerage bill rise by £9 to £405.

In England and Wales, where a household’s water supplier depends on where you live, the average increase for this tax year was 2%. However, some customers – such as those of United Utilities – faced a bigger increase of 4%.

In Scotland, where water and sewerage prices depend on your council tax band for your home – and are covered by a ‘combined service charge’ – bills will rise by 1.7% on average. This means that those in tax band D, for example, will pay £437 a year.

In Northern Ireland, there are no domestic water charges.

Water is just one of a number of bills that have gone up in recent months for many households, piling increasing pressure on people’s finances.

Tim Robertson, chief executive of Save Water Save Money, says: “With consumers already navigating a year of consistent price increases, high inflation and low wage growth, it is well worth taking steps to mitigate the annual rise in water bills.”

Andy White, charges expert at water watchdog the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), adds: “There are lots of ways you can save money, including trialling a water meter, taking advantage of free water-saving devices, and checking to see if you’re eligible for a cut-price tariff.”

Moneywise takes a closer look.

Install a water meter

While you can’t switch water companies – as you can with gas and electricity suppliers – you may be able to save money by having a water meter fitted.

Mr White says: “For many households, this can be the most effective way to cut water bills, and you can get a meter installed free of charge.” With a meter, the size of your bill depends on your consumption rather than the rateable value of your property.

As a rule of thumb, if your home has more bedrooms than people living in it there’s a good chance you may be able to save money. Mr White adds: “Water meters won’t benefit everyone, but some people can save more than £100 a year.”

In most cases, you’ll have up to two years to switch back to unmeasured charges if you change your mind.

That said, some water companies in the south-east of England are rolling out universal metering programmes, where customers do not have the option to switch back to unmeasured charges. Always check your options with your water company before switching.

To find out if you might be better off switching to a meter, make use of an online calculator – the Consumer Council for Water has a handy calculator (Ccwater.org.uk/watermetercalculator).

Note that in Scotland, it’s not free to have a water meter installed, so you are probably best sticking with what you have. Also, be aware that as there are no domestic water charges in Northern Ireland, there is no need for a meter.

Get help with your water bills

In England and Wales, there are additional ways to save on your water bills – such as via social tariffs and through the WaterSure scheme.

"To find out if you’d be better off with a meter, check online"

Every water company now offers a reduced social tariff for eligible low-income customers. Some of these tariffs can slash bills by as much as 90%. You can find out if you’re likely to qualify for help, and how to apply, by using CCW’s social tariff guide. Visit Ccwater.org.uk/households/help-with-my-bills.

If you’re already a metered customer, meanwhile, but have high usage due to a medical condition or because you have a large family, and also receive income-related benefits, the WaterSure scheme could help. It limits the amount you’re charged and in most cases will be capped at the average household bill for your water company region.

In Scotland, households can find more information about the help available at the Water Industry Commission for Scotland at Watercommission.co.uk/view_HouseholdCustomers.aspx. Also visit Citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/consumer/water/water-and-sewerage-s/paying-for-water-and-sewerage-in-scotland-s/. For example, if you are entitled to a single person’s discount on your council tax, it will also be applied automatically to the water and sewerage charges on your council tax bill.

People in Northern Ireland can find out about the help available by visiting The Consumer Council at Consumercouncil.org.uk/water/additional-help-for-energy-and-water-customers/. Help with adapted equipment like tap handles and control knobs is available to people on the Customer Care Register, such as pensioners and those with a disability or chronic medical condition.

“We are making big savings now”

Eddie and Jill Joesbury-Clarke (pictured above)from Worcester in the Midlands managed to cut their water bill from £750 a year to less than £400 by switching to a water meter.

The couple, who live in a three-bedroom bungalow, opted to trial a meter with Severn Trent Water back in 2013 to see if that would reduce their costly bills.

Eddie, 84, says: “I went online and put our details into the water meter calculator on the Consumer Council for Water website. The site told me that we could potentially make a pretty substantial saving, so we were keen to give it a go.”

After moving to metered charges, the couple managed to almost halve their bill.

“We now pay less than £400 a year for our water,” says Eddie. “This has made a real difference to our household finances. My only regret is that we didn’t trial a water meter all those years ago when our children left home. But at least we are making big savings now.”

The couple say they have always been conscious of using water sparingly so as not to waste this finite resource. Eddie adds: “We take all sorts of water-saving measures, such as having a dual-flush system in the toilet, and using a water butt to collect rainwater in the garden. I have also only ever used a sponge, bucket and watering can to wash the car – never a hosepipe.”

More top tips to reduce how much you spend on water

  1. Turn off the tap when you brush your teeth This could save a family of four up to £50 on annual metered water bills, according to water efficiency firm Save Water Save Money, as well as 17,520 litres of water per year.
  2. Cut a minute off your shower time This could save you £30 on your energy and metered water bills per year, or £120 for a family of four, according to Save Water Save Money.
  3. Install a water-saving shower head One of these could save a family of four £75 on their gas bill and about £120 on their water bill (if metered), according to the Energy Saving Trust.
  4. Fix your dripping taps A dripping tap can waste around 5,300 litres of water a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust. If you’re on a water meter, this could cost you an extra £15 per year.
  5. Take a five-minute shower instead of a bath A quick shower uses a lot less water than a long soak in the bath. If everyone in a four-person family took a five-minute shower in place of a bath, it could save around £15 on energy bills and around £25 on metered water and sewerage bills a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
  6. Fit a dual-flush toilet button Around a third of the total water used in every household is through toilet flushing, so it’s worth investing in a device that lets you choose how much water you use – an average of 4-6 litres per flush instead of 13. A dual-flush button could save a four-person household 50,000 litres of water every year. That would save around £150 a year in metered sewerage water bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
  7. Use a bowl to wash up Using a bowl to do the washing-up rather than leaving the hot tap running could save around £25 a year on a household’s energy bill and around £30 on metered water and sewerage bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
  8. Store up your washing-up Save up your dishes and do the washing-up in one go to reduce the amount of water you use. Similarly, wait until you’ve got a full load before using your dishwasher – or, for that matter, your washing machine.
  9. Use a garden water butt Collect rainwater in a water butt and then use this to fill a watering can when you need to water the garden. This is much less wasteful than a hosepipe or sprinkler, which can use up to 1,000 litres an hour. A metered household using a hosepipe for one hour a month could typically save about £35 a year, according to the Consumer Council for Water (CCW). Non-metered households won’t save.
  10. Fish for freebies Most water companies offer free devices that help you reduce your usage. This might include £20 low-flow shower heads, £5 inserts to reduce the flow of water from your tap, and Save-a-Flush bags, worth £2, which go in the cistern and save about 1 litre of water each time you flush the toilet. See your water company’s website for details.
  11. Soak away savings If you have a soakaway in your garden, which drains excess water into the earth, you may be able to have surface water drainage charges removed from your bills, saving over £50 a year, according to the CCW. You may also be eligible for a refund of charges you’ve paid, as soakaway discounts first came into force in 2001.
  12. Make use of free online tools to analyse your water use Check out water usage tools such as the aqKWa Savings Engine (Aqkwa.co.uk). This gives you an overview of your total use, with personalised water saving advice for your location, home and lifestyle.

For more water saving tips, visit Ccwater.org.uk, Est.org.uk and Savewatersavemoney.co.uk.

Leave a comment

Changed to a water meter a

Changed to a water meter a year ago and reduced my monthly bill from £45 to £12. Wish I'd done it years ago