/ Home & Energy

Should water meters be compulsory?

Water coming out of tap

Water companies have been set targets to introduce water meters to around half of UK homes by 2015. But is this really the best solution for everyone – and can it actually help to reduce water waste?

Just over a third of us have a water meter – and those who don’t can give one a go, returning it with no hard feelings if it doesn’t work out.

But if meters are made compulsory, as they are in some parts of the South of England, there’ll be no going back for those who end up worse off.

The pros and cons of metering

It’s easy to see why a nationwide rollout is supported by organisations like the RSPB; the effects of water depletion on fragile habitats can be catastrophic, and pure wastefulness is at least partly to blame.

The idea is that water meters would quantify our water use in the cold, hard cash terms that we understand, and provide a tangible reason to be wiser with our water.

But issues like leaky pipes left unfixed make it difficult to swallow water company rhetoric about the value of water.

Will water meters suit everyone?

On top of that, metering is not a universal fix. Average consumption in Germany – where all water is metered – is around 30% lower than in the UK. But in the United States (where water is also metered) usage is more than double the UK average per person per day.

According to the Consumer Council for Water, one in six already struggles to afford their water charges. The danger of imposing compulsory metering is that some larger, more vulnerable, families will be worse off and may not be able to afford the increased charges imposed.

While metering might make us more aware of the water we use, is it the best way to cut consumption? And would it be fair to impose meters on everyone?

Rose says:
4 February 2011

The provision of water meters will be very costly and problematic in flats. A lot of the wasted water is caused by the water companies not keeping their pipes in good order. The United States has adopted water meters but this has made little difference on consumption.

Sophie Gilbert says:
4 February 2011

The water consumption comparison between Germany and the US plainly shows that saving water, or not, is cultural in some countries. There is a distict possibility for example that a lot of americans think that using water in whatever quantities they like is literally their god-given right.


It bothers me that some folk seem to feel that it is fine to run the power shower until all the water in the tank has been used up or to leave the hose running unnecessarily on the garden for hours because they pay a flat rate for their water. This seems unfair to me because water quality deteriorates (well, it tastes horrible, anyway) when supplies become low during a dry spell and the water company has to use less palatable sources of water. I also wonder how much more my metered water and sewerage costs me because of their profligacy.

Rachel says:
4 February 2011

Its a difficult one, in principle I wouldn’t mind a water meter. However we live in a Victorian semi and our water supply comes off our neighbour’s which in turn comes off the mains in the road. There isn’t really anywhere to put our meter and our neighbours certainly don’t have the option to consider one! Many older properties have shared mains which would be costly to alter and maybe impossible in some cases. We could consider rerouting our water supply down the other side of our property and having our own connection to the mains but this would be very costly, i.e digging up and relaying drive for a start, and how to go about negociating who pays for it all.

It has been shown that having a water meter installed can have a beneficial effect on water consumption, not just because you are aware that you pay for what you use, it can flag up leaking supply pipes. I have known this happen, because the meter was recording a vast water usage which clearly was not happening, investigations were made and a leaking pipe replaced under the house. Who knows how long this had been going on before the meter was installed.

I agree about Sophie’s comments above about it being a cultural thing. Germans are on the whole more aware of being green, and being careful with resources. Also I think that over there excessive water usage is quite costly. The effect of using more water than usual is very noticeable on ones bill. I don’t know about America, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t cheaper.


I’m absolutely against metered water on principle and I have two reasons for this.

The first has accurately been highlighted by Rose in the first post, and also by Katie in her introduction, and it is that the water companies allow millions (in fact I guess billions) of gallons of water to run to waste every month through pipes that they can’t be bothered to repair. Actually, can’t be bothered might be a rather charitable explanation: I suspect that in at least some cases it’s “won’t” because of the cost which would be frowned upon by the shareholders.

The second reason is the I believe very firmly that metered water on a compulsory basis could well lead to an increase in ill health and possibly even the return of diseases such as Cholera. This is likely to be because poorer people simply can’t afford enough water for a healthy, clean, home and body (pointed out clearly by Katie towards the end of her introduction) although it may also occur due to ignorant penny-pinching by people perfectly able to afford but determined to pay as little as they can. As an example of this, a lady who lives quite near to me has a water meter and quite openly “gloats” over how little she pays, but is not afraid either to say that she showers only once per week and makes do with a single wet flannel on other days, that she washes once per week and will put EVERYTHING for that week into a single load in the washer (on a cold cycle to save power), that she only flushes the lavatory when there is non-liquid to be disposed of and that she uses rainwater that she collects in the garden for filling her kettle, cooking and washing dishes. I would not class this person as eccentric, and she is certainly not without money; neither are some of her ideas necessarily bad, but put them all together and it is my opinion that her obsession with tiny water bills is, literally, unhealthy.

On the other side of the coin, I most certainly DO think that profligate use (waste) of water, such as highlighted by pdfisk, should be discouraged as much as possible, and ways to encourage the use of grey water and rainwater for tasks such as gardening, car washing, window cleaning, etc., are certainly as yet under-developed.

I would also have no particular objection to the water rates being updated: as far as I know the current system nationally is the same as where I live which is that the water rate is based on the rateable value of your house in 1982. I don’t particularly dislike this – it works out nice and cheap – but the realist ion me says that the current, or at least a more recent, value of the property should now be being used.


I have ask if the lady concerned is actually unhealthy – or that you think her life style is unhealthy. Because honestly it looks as though she is simply using water frugally – As she boils the rain water she drinks – and the water she uses from the mains is chlorinated – both systems are safe. The causes of Cholera may be concerned with sanitation but I cannot see her lifestyle being actually unsanitary.- different from yours may be – but not unsanitary.

I have an interest in this as when I was a boy – asthma was very rare – sanitation was not obsessive. When I became a teacher I was appalled at the rise in asthmatic children. I postulated that the cause was lack of exposure to dirt – particularly as children I knew who camped and played in the dirt did not suffer from asthma. A few years ago a scientific study’s conclusion was exactly the same as my postulation. Children were now too clean and did not develop sufficient antibodies..

Incidentally – I haven’t had a cold or flu in 25 years – and I do camp.

On a similar note – if the water rate is set from the 1982 rateable value (the rateable value is set proportionately and does not effectively change the proportion charged when increased) – it makes no difference if the house value rises – the water rate rises annually anyway to reflect cost and is still proportionate.

I know locally that a water meter usually means a reduction in charge – not because people use less but because the water rate is based on rateable value or size of house not on amount of water used.

Example – a three bedroom house has the same water rate irrespective of number of bedrooms occupied or people living there. I’m considering getting a water meter because I have a 5 bedroomed house which is occupied by i man and 3 dogs,


I think you raise a good point Richard: I’m also a teacher and I have also noticed the asthma / allergy / general malaise issue and contracted it with my own childhood / early adulthood on the 70’s and 80’s.

As for whether the lady I cited is unhealthy: well, I have to say that she seems to enjoy reasonably good health, but I’m afraid that her personal hygiene does mean that she has a certain aroma, doubtless magnified millions of times over by smoking and sadly I must say that some local residents do comment rather unkindly on the colour of her clothes and household furnishings such as curtains which I think is the direct result of the washing regime. I guess that the old saying “each to their own” should be applied whilst ever anyone who chooses to live a particular lifestyle is causing no harm to anyone else. I’m afraid that being the soft-hearted person that I am I find myself feeling sorry for her being the object of people’s unkind comments for the sake of saving a few bob on her water bill.

Your comment regarding the water rate also makes a lot of sense and I had not really thought of it in that light, although I do think that these days, with all the en-suites and utility rooms, and the associated water consuming appliances that go in them, a review is probably still due. After all, houses with no en-suites and no utility rooms will be valued at the lower end of the scale and ones with these things at the higher end, so it would help to bring the water rate more into line with the likely consumption wouldn’t it?


Dave – I have to say that I feel the lady does more to aid the environment by saving water than her neighbours. We need to save water not use it up

I get something similar with my garden. I designed my garden as an oasis for insects – small animals and birds – So it has food-plants including trees for the insects which attract small mammals up to foxes and birds. Others locally favour decking and grass – neither really help the environment. Consequently my garden teems with insects especially butterflies birds and animals – except rats and mice – the foxes take care of them. the other gardens are sterile. We are encouraged to help the environment – but most don’t.. If they did I could cut down on my help.

As to rates – The rate is set not by inspecting each and every premises – but by looking at a stereotypical house on the outside – and whether a central heating system is installed. (Found by examining gas bills etc). Then applying that rate to all houses which look the same in the area.

So unless there is an individual inspection of each house – then the quality of facilities inside of each house is ignored to a large extent – At least that was the case when I was a Senior Rating Officer for Westminster many years ago (long Story :)). That is why my 6 bedroom house has the same rateable value as the next house – even though my house has 1 occupier and 3 dogs – the house next door contains 10 people. They use at least 10 times the water – and 10 times the other local facilities as well as generate 10 times the waste,

It is why we not only need water meters by also a Poll Tax – the thing Thatcher lost her job over