/ 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?

D McDanie says:
13 June 2012

The call for water meters is the biggest scam going. There is no shortage of water. there is a shortage of infrastructure but this is down to the greed of the privatised companies. Water is infinitely recyclable and apart from the running costs water should be free.

Louise says:
19 June 2012

We have compulsory meters in our area. I resent it. I’m careful with my water and see it as an infringement of my rights. I also see it as an exercise in creating the appearance of scarcity to justify increased prices further down the line. We initially didn’t respond to letters about a water meter installation. We received a letter saying if we didn’t respond we would be put on to assessed charges. We contacted the company and they can to install in the meter or so we thought. Two months later and we’re being charged £55 a month for our water. This is assessed charges plus a no access charge. Even though we have actually given access. We’re a couple in a two bedroom terrace. So we contact water company apparently the meter has not been installed it was just a survey. Nobody told us it was just a survey. We make an appointment for the installation on a Saturday the only day available as we’re working. The guy doesnt show up. We We’re not available for another 3 Saturday’s dues to commitments. The whole time being charged £55 a month. I’ve spoken to the company and they will not reverse the charges. It is completely unfair and they can only get away with it as there’s no competition! The only reason I get from them about why they can charge this amount is because it’s been agreed by OFWAT. Even though we allowed access because we did not respond to the letters initially we’re being punished. I asked them if this was punishment for not responding initially even though we have no given access to the property and they said ” you could look at it like that” we have to have wifi meter in the house because there’s shared access and I’m not happy about this but I have no choice.

D McDaniel says:
13 June 2012

The call for water meters is the biggest scam ever perpetrated. There is no shortage of water it is infinitely recyclable. There is a shortage of infrastructure but that is down to the greedy bosses and shareholders of the privatised water companies. Water is not a green issue. These monopoly’s hold us all to ransom. When they first introduced water meters on the isle of wight people cut the use of water but the company put the prices up because they weren’t making enough profit. So water meters have nothing to do with the conservation of water.

Hans Peter says:
16 July 2012

You should pay for what you’re using, if it’s water, electricity, gas, food, whatever. That big families could be worse off plays no role what so ever. Volunerable people should get support where support is due. This shouldn’t allow them to waste resources.
Also, having the paradox of a drought and constant floodings at the same time, it is obvious that the water treatment and the water infrastructure is the real problem in the UK.
I agree with the previous comment, that water companies don’t care about the sustainability, but rather about profit. Similarly with the energy companies. Why is there usually a cap after which it becomes cheaper to use energy, i.e. encouraging more usage? I think that the supply and distribution of any basic resources, such as water, should be nationalised rather than being profit orientated.

Allan says:
2 July 2020

Perhaps if we all stopped voting Tory then it would be (re) nationalised

Perhaps it already is in some places. The water at my dentist’s comes out pink.

I am not sure about nationalising water – putting it all under state control including sewage treatment, pollution, and environmental management. The Environment Agency is not a good example of managing flooding and coastal erosion. But I think there is a good case for returning water on its own to public service organisations like local authorities and water boards. They were generally efficient and economical. There is no means of providing competition in water supply so there is no particular consumer advantage in having massive [sometimes foreign] corporations running monopolies.

jatin maniar says:
10 October 2012

The water meter was installed compulsory in my property when I moved in 2005 and conitnued installing upto 2009 in the property where the owner occupier had changed. From 2010 the compulsory water ter installation was scrapped.
Only 5% houses has meter in my street. So why 95% houses they use unmeasured water without any restriction?. The water companies don’t have any plan for compulsory meter installation for another 10 years.
Veolia water company is refusing to remove the meter.

Mark says:
10 October 2012

It’s unfair and inpracticable to make everyone pay for exactly what they use. It’s unfair since it will result in the poor paying more and the rich less. The benefits system is nowhere near, nor ever likely to be, sophisticated enough to compensate those who lose out. We will end up with the poorest losing out on essential services.
As others have suggested we need positive measures to help reduce water consumption (if indeed the problem is with excessive consumption) not to price water out of people’s reach.

I can only add – my recent experience bodes very badly for the future. Thames Water decided to change the outside underground mains tap without consultation or information. THEN they left if OFF so I had no water coming into the house – so I could have burnt out the boiler or it could have exploded – The only reason I found out is I have an outside tap directly connected to the mains that I use daily- on trying it – no water – an investigation located the outside underground tap was closed.
Four phone calls and three letters have not produced any reply whatever. And some like PRIVATE utilities????????????

I don’t think your boiler would burn out or explode just because the water is turned off. I turn off my water when I go away for up to two weeks over Christmas and New Year, leaving the heating on low to avoid freezing. That’s worked fine for 30 years.

Kerry says:
9 March 2013

I hate being on a meter, constantly checking that my children have turned the taps off and since I have been here (5 months) everything that has gone wrong with this house has been water related! leaking toilet, dripping tap an overflow pipe that keeps leaking 4 buckets of water at a time in the space of 2 hours. The gas company cant seem to fix it, they keep coming out and changing ball valves etc but its still doing it! Its doing my head in, I wish I had never moved to a house with a meter!

The wasted water is probably much less than you imagine, bearing in mind how much you use just to flush the toilet. You could always read your meter and calculate how much you have used since the last bill.

If a company cannot successfully replace a ball valve, I would worry about whether they are fit to look after anything to do with gas.

Geoff Treen says:
27 August 2014

On the subject of water meters it makes me think of the wastage of running water when each of us are turning on the hot tap. Possibly a galleon of cold water runs through the pipes before it heats up.
So each time one of us turns the tap we are making profit from the water we DON’T use.
Should the authorities be held responsible? Should they devise cold water flow from the hot tap until it reaches a certain temperature? Surely with today’s technology this would not be difficult to engineer.

You can pump hot water round the hot water system, which will save running off water, but that will waste a lot of energy. The most effective solution is good design of a house so that the water heater or tank is close to the taps used most frequently.