Metering

A water meter measures the amount of water you use. Instead of being charged a flat rate based on your rateable value, you can choose to be charged according to the amount of water you use by having a water meter fitted.

If you are struggling to pay your water bill and you do not have a water meter, you may be able to save money on your bill by switching to a water meter. Household customers in England and Wales can choose to have a meter fitted in their homes free of charge.

You may save money if you switch to a water meter. The amount you may save depends on:

  • how much you pay now
  • the number of people living in the property
  • how much water you use

Generally speaking, you are more likely to benefit if you live on your own or you live in a property with a high rateable value. If you have a large family you may not benefit from having a water meter installed.

Our leaflet, Water meters- your questions answered provides information for household customers about metering.

If you want to find out more about meters, you can contact your water company for advice. Some company websites have an on-line calculators to help you decide whether you will save money by switching to a water meter. You can also find a calculator on the Consumer Council for Water website.

Why switch to a water meter?

If you are an unmetered customer, you may save money on your bill if you switch to a water meter. If you have a water meter you pay for how much water you use. Any savings you are likely to make depend on:

  • how much you pay now
  • the number of people living in the property
  • how much water you use

A water meter is more likely to save you money if you live in a house with a high rateable value, or if you use only a relatively small amount of water. Generally speaking, large families may be worse off with a meter and single occupiers are most likely to benefit. Your water company will advise you if it thinks you are likely to save money by switching to a water meter.

Your metered bill will usually be made up of a standing charge and a volumetric charge for your water and sewerage services. The volumetric charge is based on how much water you use in cubic metres (m3).

The standing charge is fixed. It covers things like the costs to the company of reading and maintaining your water meter. The volumetric charge varies depending on how much water you use.

Some companies also charge separately for surface water drainage or highway drainage if these are not included in the other charges.

Some company websites have an on-line calculators to help you decide whether you will save money by switching to a water meter. You can also find a spreadsheet calculator on the Consumer Council for Water website.

Meter reading

If you have a water meter, it should be read at least once a year, and read by your water company at least once every two years. Some water companies might read your meter more frequently. Often the water meter is installed so that they do not have disturb you, but can read the meter from outside.

Other water bills are usually based on an estimated reading. You can also read the meter yourself, and you may be able to update the estimated reading. Your water company can also explain how to read your meter.

You should contact your water company for more information.

Meter installation

To get a meter installed, there is a simple process to follow.

  • Contact your company to find out the savings you may make by having a meter.
  • If you can make savings, ask for an application form for a meter.
  • Fill in the application form and return it to your company. You can usually do this by post, over the phone or online.
  • Subject to a survey, the company will fit the meter within three months of receiving your application.
  • You should receive your first water bill within six months of the meter being installed.

In some cases, the company is not able to fit a meter. In this case, they should then offer you an assessed charge.

How quickly will the company fit a meter?

Your water company should install the meter within three months of your request.

If it does not do this, the company should offer to adjust your bill to reflect the charges you would have paid if you had been on a meter.

Where will the meter be installed?

Water meters are normally installed:

  • outside your home (under a small metal or plastic cover in your driveway, garden or nearby footpath)
  • in a small wall-mounted box on the side of your property
  • or inside your property (normally where the water supply pipe enters your home, usually under the kitchen sink)

The company will choose where to put the meter. You can ask for it to be installed in a different place, but you may be required to pay the difference in costs.

If you have special requirements because of age, illness or disability, the company may fit the meter free of charge in a location that is easy for you to access.

What if a meter can’t be installed?

It may not be possible for your company to install a meter at your property. This may be because:

  • there is more than one supply of water to the property
  • your property is on a shared supply
  • the pipework inside your property is inaccessible, obstructed or in poor condition
  • the company is not able to find a suitable place to fit the meter internally or externally
  • you live in a flat and have access to communal facilities or a shared hot water supply

If your company says that it cannot fit a meter at your property, it should explain why it is impractical or too expensive to do so. If you disagree with your company’s decision not to install a meter, then the Consumer Council for Water may be able  to resolve your complaint quickly on an informal basis. If they are not successful then they will consider referring the complaint to us for formal resolution. Once we start a formal investigation of the dispute, both you and your company must follow our decision. Find out more about complaints we handle.

Your company should also offer you the option to switch to an assessed charge. This is an estimate of what your metered bill might have been had a meter been installed.

You will need to compare the assessed charge with your current bill to decide if you will save money. Your company will be able to give you more information.

Metered charges

If you have a water meter, you are a metered customer. This means you pay according to how much water you use. Your bill is usually made up of a:

  • standing charge
  • volumetric charge, which is measured in cubic metres (m3), 1m3 is the same as 1000 litres

The standing charge is fixed. It covers the costs to the company of reading and maintaining your water meter. The volumetric charge varies depending on how much water you use.

If you have a water meter and are having problems paying your bill you can be protected from receiving large water bills under the WaterSure scheme.

If you have a cesspool or septic tank you will probably also pay charges for tankered household waste.

Water charges

Paying for what you use means you are more likely to use water wisely. This means each water company should set the metered volumetric charge to recover the costs that it will spend over the longer term to meet demand. This will help the companies meet the environmental challenges that the water and sewerage sectors face.

The metered standing charge, on the other hand, should be no more than the customer-related costs for the unmetered service, along with the fixed costs associated with providing a metered service (for example, meter reading).

Leakage allowance

If your metered bill is higher than usual, it could mean a leak on the underground supply pipe into your property.  Your company should be able to help you detect whether you have a leak and arrange repairs.

You have important legal rights to have the cost of water lost though leakage credited to your water bill – this is called a leakage allowance and can apply to water supply charges and to wastewater charges which would also be higher.  You can only claim this allowance once the leak has been repaired. Your company can refuse leakage allowances in some circumstances.

Each company must clearly explain how they address leakage from household supply pipes. This should include information about leakage allowances, how to claim them, how they are applied to your bill and when they can be refused.

Sewerage charges

In your bill, your water company will include charges for three main sewerage services. These are for collecting and treating:

  • foul sewage
  • surface water drainage (for run-off from rainwater that falls onto your property)
  • highway drainage (for run-off from roads and pavements)

In principle, if you can demonstrate that you do not receive one of these services (apart from highway drainage,) you may be entitled to a reduction in your sewerage bill.

Foul sewage

Your bill will include a charge for collecting and treating foul sewage.

Your company will usually base its foul sewage service charges on the volume of water recorded on your water meter.

Your company will apply an assumption about the amount of water customers use that does not return to the sewer (the ‘non-return to sewer’ allowance). If you return significantly less than the assumed amount to the sewer, you may be able to claim a reduction in your sewerage bill. You will need to contact your sewerage company for further details.

Surface water drainage

Surface water is the rainwater that drains from your property into the sewer. Your company collects and treats this surface water. There is a charge for this service.

You will pay for surface water drainage in your bill either:

  • as part of the volumetric rate
  • as a fee in the standing charge
  • through a charge based on the rateable value of your property, or
  • through a charge related to the type of property you live in

If you can prove that the surface rainwater from your property does not drain into the public sewer, you may be entitled to a rebate on your bill from your sewerage company. Find out more about surface water drainage rebates.

Highways drainage

Companies treat water that falls onto the public roads and drains to the public sewers and collect a charge for this. The costs to the water company of this highway drainage service are not related to the amount of water that you use or to the value or size of your property, so there is no particular way of recovering these costs. Highway drainage benefits everyone who uses the road network either directly or indirectly. As a result, there is a case for recovering the costs of this service from highway authorities or from road users. At present, however, the law prevents this.

Your charges for highway drainage can be found in your company’s charges scheme.