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Welcome to the June 2016 edition of On the Case, which looks at issues affecting your water and wastewater services, and how we protect you.

Short story 1: Can you be forced to have a water meter?

All residential customers in England and Wales can ask their water company to fit a water meter at their home free of charge, which could save you money. Unless it is not practical to install a meter or would be unreasonably costly, a water company must comply with a request for a meter. But sometimes water companies can require some customers (‘compulsory metering’) to have a water meter installed even if they don’t want one. This is called ‘compulsory metering’. Are they allowed to do that?

“The simple answer is yes”, explains Helen Cox from Ofwat.

“Legally there are several reasons why water companies could require you to have a water meter. The most common reasons are that the occupier of your property has changed or you live in an area that has been officially declared an area of water scarcity or a seriously water stressed area. But other reasons include if you have things like a swimming pool or an irrigation system for your garden”, Helen responds”.

But why?

“It saves water in areas where the likely demand for water is very high and there are insufficient resources for meeting that demand. It is also a fairer way to charge because customers that use more pay more”, says Helen.

So can water companies just install a meter without telling you?

“No. If the company plans to compulsorily meter your property, they are required to tell you before they do it”, answers Helen.

If you have a complaint about water meters, you should contact the Consumer Council for Water in the first instance.

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Short story 2: Unhappy with your bill? What you can do

No one likes paying a bill. But when you think your water bill is too high or even wrong, what can you do?

“If you are unhappy with your bill, you should contact your water company first. Each company decides their prices – or ‘charges’ – each year and must provide information on their charges in a charges scheme, which you will find on their website. They should also make sure your bill is clear and be able to explain it to you. That includes telling you how your bill is worked out and what you get for your money – rather than simply saying what they are allowed to charge”, explains Harpreet Atwal from Ofwat

So what is Ofwat’s role?

“Ofwat sets overall limits every five years on the money that water companies can charge. Companies then turn these into charges for different customers, following the rules we set. If companies break these rules, we can take action against them”, Harpreet responds.

And what should you do if you are unhappy with your company’s answer about your bill?

“You should ask for a senior manager at the company to review your complaint. If you are still unhappy, contact the Consumer Council for Water”, advises Harpreet.

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News in brief

Item 1: Ofwat decision rules out multiple administration fees for water connections

Water companies have a legal duty to connect a home to their mains when you ask them. And in making make the connection, water companies can recover the reasonable costs they incur, including for administration. But they should be clear about what you are paying for and how much. In one of our recent decisions, we ruled it was unreasonable for water companies to charge multiple administration fees. If you think your bill for a new connection is unreasonable, contact us.

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Item 2: Want a water meter but can’t get one? Your choice on how to be charged

As a residential customer, you can ask your water company to fit a water meter at your home free of charge. In most cases, this won’t be a problem. But sometimes your company may refuse because it is not practical or too expensive to install one. If this is the case, they should offer to let you pay an ‘assessed charge’ – an alternative to your current unmetered charges that may be cheaper. It’s your choice if you stick with your current unmetered charge, or opt for the assessed charge. Or you can ask us to review the company’s decision to refuse you a meter.

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Item 3: Don’t have a water meter? How you’ll be charged

If you don’t have a water meter, your water bill will not be based on how much water you use. Instead your water company will use something called the ‘rateable value’ to work out how much you need to pay. It is not possible to change or appeal your rateable value. You can only carry on paying or ask your company to install a water meter.

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Item 4: Your rights if you pay someone other than a water company for your water services

Some people pay someone other than a water company for their water and wastewater services – such as landlords or agents. These ‘resellers’ should charge you no more than the amount they are charged by the company – plus a reasonable administration charge. There are rules on how much resellers should charge you.

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Item 5: Choosing your business supplier from April 2017 – latest news

From April 2017 1.2 million businesses and other non-household customers mainly in England will be able to choose their water and wastewater service retailer. Retail services include things like meter reading, billing and customer services. To make sure eligible customers are protected in the new market, we recently published the Customer Protection Code of Practice. You can sign up to receive email alerts with the latest news on opening the market at www.open-water.org.uk.


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Useful links

Coming up in the next issue

In the next issue we will be looking at:

  • Surface water drainage charges
  • Is water a free commodity?
  • Water Supply and Sewerage Licences


Do you have any comments on this issue of On the Case? Send your feedback to [email protected].