Gas and electricity meters are familiar to most of us, but water meters aren’t generally as well known and certainly not as widely used. In 2013 the Water Services Regulation Authority, Ofwat, noted that ‘about 40% of [water company] customers in England and Wales have a water meter. But this number is slowly increasing.’

Water companies now install meters free of charge, both for owners of properties and for tenants with rental contracts of longer than six months.

Water meterThe basic principles of water meters are the same as for electricity and gas: the device measures the amount of the water you use; and as for those other resources, the supplier company takes regular readings of your meter, which you can also make yourself at other times to ensure you’re being charged the correct amount. If you don’t already have a water meter but are considering having one installed, some of the potential advantages are as follows:

  • Fairness: With a water meter, you pay only for the amount of water you use rather than a fixed amount based on the ‘rateable value’ of the property – basically the property’s annual rental value, worked out by the Valuation Office. Before 1990, this was how everybody was charged for water. The rateable value of a property can’t be changed by water companies or appealed by the customer, meaning you may be stuck with a fixed amount which doesn’t reflect your usage.
  • Savings: Your water company can help you work out how much you could save by having a meter installed, and therefore whether it is in your financial interest to fit a meter. If you don’t use a great deal of water – perhaps because you live alone or in a small household – or if your property has a high rateable value, it is likely you would make savings with a meter.
  • Awareness: Paying for our water usage almost inevitably makes us more aware of how much we use, and how we use it. On average, customers with a meter use 10% less water than those without. In addition, increased conscious of our water usage will likely have a knock-on effect when it comes to our gas and electricity usage as well: it takes a great deal of energy to heat water, so using less of it in our bathrooms and kitchens means less energy consumed.
  • Detection of leaks: With a meter, as you are being charged for the amount of water used. A disproportionately high bill could lead to detection of leaks of which you might otherwise remain unaware.
  • Environmental benefits: The previous two points both highlight that when a water meter is installed in a property less water is likely to be used, either intentionally or unintentionally. This is helpful for the environment in a time when areas of England and Wales are considered to be in serious ‘water stress’ .

Two potential disadvantages to having a water meter installed are those of impracticality (the piping or physical layout of your property may make it impractical and expensive to fit a meter) and financial loss (it is possible that the fixed amount you currently pay is less than you would pay when being charged for your actual usage). Where the latter is concerned, however, it is worth noting that if you decide to have a meter installed and afterwards find yourself incurring financial loss, your water company will allow you to revert to an unmetered charge, provided you inform them within a year of the installation.

(Photos by alexfrance and cakoo)