WWF UK Blog  

Water meters – a misunderstood money saver.


Water meters get a bad press, often being blamed for rises in costs and a way for water companies to extract more money from the hard pressed consumer.

Checking the quality of the water in the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda © WWF-Canon / Simon RawlesChecking the quality of water © WWF-Canon / Simon Rawles

I see it from another side- water meters mean a household pays for what it uses, not what other people assume it uses. More often than not, that means a reduction in water consumption, and a reduction in bills.

Another way of looking at them is by considering two options:

a: Pay for what water you use
b: Pay for what water you use… plus a bit of what someone else has used as well.

Chances are, under the current system, you’re probably doing option b.

One of the reasons I like water meters is that they are fairer. We currently have a two tier charging system, based on values calculated in the 1970s. This means many low income households are effectively subsidising those better off – which is pretty outrageous when you think about it.

In contrast to popular wisdom, many households will pay less for water by using a water meter. Arguably you don’t pay for water at all, only for the cost of delivery, cleaning and removal of waste water, but that’s for another blog.

Water meters are an easy way for a household to save money, as well as water.

I (and WWF) like both these things.

When my family switched to a meter we saved £20 on our water bill, and a £100 on our sewerage bill last year. And through the Fairness on Tap project, we’re aware of many households who saved hundreds of pounds off their annual bill.

Defra’s own independently commissioned study (the Walker review) found that fitting a water meters was the fairest way to pay for water and – combined with tariffs to promote water efficiency and protect vulnerable households – could help ensure water bills were more affordable.

This review even came with added bonus features: if there was a systematic rollout of water meters, instead of the piecemeal effort currently being done, the country overall would save around £1.5 Billion. Not bad. As well as saving money for households AND the country, water meters tend to save water – 10-15% on average. So more water would stay in our rivers and streams, which are facing a much tougher time than we may all suspect.

The point of fairness is an interesting one. Most of us love a bargain but don’t expect to have to pick up the tab for other’s people’s bargains as well – which is essentially what the system currently expects us to do.

We would be grumbling if we thought our neighbour was running their home cinema off our electricity or heating their home via our gas, so why should we be happy to pay for their water use?

I wonder if it is partly because we see water as all around us? Unlike gas or electricity – we see it literally falling from the skies. But it would soon become tiresome if we had to keep filling up buckets to supply our own needs – which for the average person in the UK is 150 litres of water a day. That’s a lot of water. And a lot of buckets.

And this brings me to my next point. There is an opportunity to give something back. The Water Bill currently wending its way through Parliament is an opportunity for the Government to table legislation to enable the widespread roll out of meters, coupled with a package of water efficiency advice, equipment and social tariffs to protect hardest hit customers.

The previous Government politely ignored the Walker review recommendations, perhaps fearing that water meters would be politically challenging. It might well be… but so is expecting half the country to pay more for the water being used by other people.

We are of course all in this together, so let’s see some fairness in action.

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