More money down the drain as bills increase

A water meter could save money for many households
A water meter could save money for many households
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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With Hampshire narrowly missing out on a drought this month, water has suddenly shot to the top of the agenda.

Even compared to other utilities such as gas and electric, it’s the one essential that we all use day in, day out.

So many people thought putting it in the hands of private companies back in 1989 was a recipe for disaster – or at least ever-rising bills.

Last week, when the government announced its ambition to privatise parts of the road network, the Prime Minister David Cameron held up the water industry as an example of a successful sell-off.

But with costs predicted to rise higher than inflation in the coming year, consumers could be forgiven for thinking they are once again being squeezed by big business.

In Portsmouth bills are set to increase by 6.6 per cent according to industry regulator Ofwat, bringing the average cost to around £361 a year.

We still enjoy some of the lowest water charges in the country, but with prices moving inexorably upwards, canny customers should be looking for ways of cutting back on their water bills.

No-one likes pouring money down the drain, but many of us could be quids in by switching for free to a water meter which only charges you for what you use. Around 40 per cent of customers in England and Wales already pay for metered water, but targets have been set for water companies to increase this figure to 50 per cent by 2015.

· Is installing a meter worth it?

The financial benefits of installing a water meter depend on what you pay now, the number of people in your house and how much water you use.

Ofwat says in general large families may be worse off with a meter and single occupiers are most likely to benefit.

It estimates metering can reduce household water consumption by between nine and 21 per cent. On an average bill of £361 this is a saving of up to £76.

· How do I get a water meter?

In Portsmouth you can trial a water meter until you have received two bills based on the meter reading, or within 12 months of meter installation, then decide to switch back to the old rateable charge if you find you’re spending more money.

Contact your water company to arrange a home assessment to decide whether a meter can be installed.

Some companies prefer to fit a meter inside the home while others prefer to install in a boundary box outside.

Your water company should then read the meter at least once a year. You can also read the meter yourself to check your bills and keep an eye on how much you’re using.

If it is impossible to have a meter installed, then your water company should offer you an ‘assessed charge’ where you pay a bill based on an estimate of your water supply usage or what other metered customers in your area pay.

· Metered water charges

A water meter works in the same way as a gas or electricity meter.

It records and charges you for the amount of water actually used rather than the traditional flat charge based on the value of your property.

Water companies’ unmeasured and measured tariffs vary considerably, but your supplier can help you work out how a meter would affect your charges.

You can estimate your prospective metered water charges using the Consumer Council for Water’s water meter calculator by visiting ccwater.org.uk.

Some individual water companies also have online calculators to help you estimate how much water you use.

Portsmouth residents receive two bills from different companies, one for water supply from Portsmouth Water and the other for sewerage charges from Southern Water, so you’ll first need to obtain the relevant tariff from each company for each service.

· Capped water meter bills

Industry watchdog the Consumer Council for Water says some people who have a water meter can request a capped bill if they receive specific benefits or tax credits and can’t avoid using a lot of water because they have three or more dependent children.

This also applies if you have a medical condition specified by the government – contact your water company for more details.