/ 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?

Comments
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

I’m with you on saving water Richard – for example I have a 500 Gallon rainwater tank which gathers the water off my roof and since I bought that I have never had to use mains water in the garden at all, I also have water butts by my shed and greenhouse and I never need to take water in to the greenhouse at all.
I’m also horrified by the number of people who wash their cars at least once a week with a running hose pipe (indeed I work with one person who I’d describe a totally crazy who washes his car EVERY DAY as soon as he gets on from work and refuses to use a bucket of water in case he gets grit in the water and then scratches the car!): in my view washing cars should be illegal using a hose or other source of running water But I don’t drive so I expect an avalanche of disagreement from car owners.
Then there is the point made by CONSUMER a bit below this: I think there should be a legal requirement for offices, shops, cafes, bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants, schools, colleges, and indeed every other public building of any kind to install water saving devices, and to set a lead on this.

However, I’m still against legally forcing everyone to have a water meter (which is what this board is about) because I think there will be a negative impact on public health (regardless of whether my slightly fanatical acquaintance is healthy or not!).

I would rather see a carrot than a stick approach to this and for me compulsory metering is a stick, and a stick with two sharp ends too because people who cannot afford to pay the water bill will also be unable to pay for new installations of water saving equipment, possibly even less able when they are facing an increased water bill. A more suitable carrot approach would be similar to the government backed insulation campaigns but instead campaigning to get everyone to have a water butt (or several) and fitting every new house with plumbing to allow rainwater or grey water to be used to flush the loo, etc. There are loads of ways to do this and most are going to save far more water than metering ever will: metering, though, is an easy cop-out (and a cheap one too) for the water companies and the government, which is the only reason it is still the primary method of reducing consumption.

I’m writing to the Environment Secretary to request compulsory water metering.
1. my water rates have reduced from £640.00 p.a to £240.00 p.a. Even when there were 2 young adults , 1 dog and us living here we would still have saved money.
2. I have a water butt-never use the mains,don’t water grass and have 120 ft of garden,
3 I rarely ever wash the car -the rain does that.
4 Water Cos are trying to say we had an extreme weather event-I suppose they were not alive in 1962/3. We, in effect, did not lose our supply as we have a dual pump system so a couple of kettles saw us thru a brief loss. Our son in London lost supply for 5 days-he works somewhere they have showers.
5 These cos have all got cash in The Cayman Islands.
6 Anyone who drones on about poor people has never filled in a ST Charity app. form for said poor person. Why should it be Charity-why should I have known their business? The State has ample info. to help said poor person by paying an amount in with their means tested benefits.
That would not include anyone of pensionable age-why a person age 64? needs twice as much to live on as a 63 yr old defies logic. As a 63 yr old I feel reasonably confident that there aren’t many people age 64 to 100 who can’t afford their water costs-unless they are higher-for reasons the State knows e.g illness which also applies to people age 0-64.

The provision of water is a service which has to be paid for. The irresponsible and greedy in society will always take advantage unless they are required to pay fairly for their usage. Our welfare system should be adjusted to cater for those whose supply demands and means of payment require assistance.

IMHO the “irresponsible and greedy in society” is a description which includes the majority of water company chief exec’s and the shareholders in the water companies: were it not for their greed (in terms of profits) I feel sure that a great deal more of what we do pay, and what the government pays – i.e. what we also pay through taxation – would get spent on repairs and updating the water supply network.

However, ggdad does have a point: take out of the equation my opinion of water company shareholders and bosses and you are still left with far too many people like the one’s Sophie Gilbert mentioned who seem to think it is a “god given right” to waste water. And note, please, the distinction between using what is necessary, even using what is desired, and being wasteful.

CONSUMER says:
7 February 2011

Leaks are not repaired promptly by the watercompanies.
They should get MASSIVE fines for that.

Education about water consumption is essential.
I suggest that the big trendy department stores could become trend setters.
All of them should voluntary install water-saving toilet flushes.
Running taps should be an absolute nono.
Have some posters on the wall about why water saving is a good idea.
It’s amazing how old-fashioned and water-wasting the ladies toilets are – including John Lewis and BHS!

My mum sent me a watersaving device (from Germany).
You fix it to your kitchen tap and the water is filled with lots of airbubbles.
It costs 2 € but it saves me a lot of water.
How do I know? – it takes much longer now to fill the kettle.
No difference otherwise!

I absolutely agree with the first part of your comment: and I would add that round here quite few stores and cafes, etc., have modem, trendy, loos which don’t flush properly because they use so little water when you press the flush, but then , possibly through over-use I don’t know, they leave a constant trickle of water running into the pan all the time, which surely must be wasting millions of gallons a year? Similarly trendy electronically operated taps should be saving water, but a great many seem to run for a very very long time before shutting off, longer than most people would run a tap for manually. Surely such devices can be adjusted better????

I don’t really understand the second item you mention so I won’t comment on it, but I’m totally with you on the big organisations needing to take the lead.

keith says:
11 February 2011

I have to smile at the comments made regarding today’s expectations..

my granny’s cottage had a scullery with an enamel basin, no water or plumbing, an open fire cooking range. two light sockets… water came by the “pail” from the standpipe 50 yards away. The shack outback had a soil loo. Gran also stored rainwater in a butt.. This was in our advanced civilisation of the 1950’s and Gran was always happy and healthy!!

I assume that those of us with a Private Water Suppy will not have to have a meter, because we are not charged by a Water Company….though there are costs of course for maintenance of the supply.

With a PWS, being careful with water becomes a way of life…for many of us here in the Lakes!

We have a PWS at the kennels – Never noticed anybody being careful with the water.

Presumably, Richard, there is a plentiful supply of water at the kennels throughout the year?

However, that is not always so…

When our house was built in 1935 in the Lake District, the local community insisisted that we had a separate supply, because theirs would “dry up” during high summer…subsequently, when mains water pipes were laid on their road, they all decided to be connected,whilst our house was not.

Now I have to inspect the level regularly, to ensure that the there is still an overflow from our underground concrete tank (2yards deep,3yards long,1yard wide) in a field above, taking care not to disturb the sheep, cows or especially the bull…and modify water usage accordingly.

For safety I’ve fitted a purification unit to the drinking water…though you may prefer chlorination!

The water companies like all companies start with a budget, which shows revenue, costs and profit.
If a meter is installed in one house and as a result their consumption goes down and the revenue from that house goes down, then the cost to the unmetered houses goes up, to protect the profit. If all the houses are metered and the overall usage falls then the price per unit increases to protect the revenue.

There will be no overall saving from installing meters only a redistribution of revenue. Mainly on to those with large families or more water using appliances.

Remember many disadvantaged people, who have lower income have to use more water for laundry.

I have been reading again Katy’s introduction where ,in “the pros and cons of metering”, she uses the expression “pure wastefulness”…which seems like a contradiction.
However,for those with a private water supply,there is a reminder of the costs for the purification of the supply just for kitchen use, rather than for washing,car cleaning and gardening.
I can well understand that the water companies would want to find ways to discourage excessive use of purified water,especially since I have to regularly check the water level in our well in the field!

I think there should be a commitment to introduce water meters for everyone but at the same time to work out ways to reduce problems for the needy. One method would be to establish a reasonable level of consumption for the average home and charge at a reduced rate up to that level, with a higher charge for consumption above that level. Any problems for large families and for those with special needs should then be sorted out through the benefits system.
Do the water companies really waste a lot of water? If so, this could be measured by installing meters in the mains at different points. At a local level the water flow in the main pipe for a street could be checked aqainst the metered supply for all the individual houses in that street and remedial action taken if there is a significant discrepancy.

PATRICK says:
27 February 2011

I don’t believe that there ia a water shortage, there is a shortage of water storage & distribution. In Cumbria we have vast amounts of water flowing out to the sea.

Mark says:
2 March 2011

I am 100% against compulsory water meters. If you want one then fine, have one. However compulsion would inevitably lead to the poor paying more and the rich less. I don’t accept that using benefits would be a good solution to this since this is only paid to the very poorest and many people are struggling and cannot claim any benefits.

I do resent the “nannying” nature of such proposals. I can quite capable of detecting and fixing leaks and don’t need a water meter to “help” me do this. A water meter would increase my water bill and make not one jot of difference to my consumption.

Valerie says:
2 September 2011

My dad was a sailer in WW2 and taught me that wasting water was practically a mortal sin. He would use the water from the pan which he had boiled his egg in to shave with.

When I do the washing up I prefer to rinse the suds off so perhaps use more water than I should. Does anyone know if less wate is used if you put a full load in a dishwasher?

We recently moved into a new house(not brand new just new to us) and it has a water meter which I do not want as I feel I should be allowed the choice to have one or not, however I am told Well its there now end of..And I feel upset by this dictac, why should I have to be govened by what the last owners had here,and I feel its an infrigement on my rights

gordon says:
13 October 2011

Sign the E petition at
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/18830
it is the only way to stop this even after meter installation encourage all adult memebers of household firends and family even colleagues at work
“We request that the whole aim, purpose and implementation of COMPULSORY WATER METERING is thoroughly investigated by parliament and is entirely withdrawn in favour of far more effective and more well established alternative water saving measures and responsible planning and construction of water utility infrastructure. If not HOUSEHOLDERS WILL HAVE TO PAY ON AVERAGE BETWEEN £200 TO £600 EXTRA PER HOUSEHOLD PER YEAR AD INFINITUM, (SOME LARGER OR EXTENDED FAMILY HOUSEHOLDS COULD PAY UP TO £1400 EXTRA). Affected householders are invariably in older housing that has a long successful record of sustainable historic use of water, over many decades or even over a century, completely funded by the water and drainage rates. They should not be expected by the charge of an extra levy, to subsidise mismanagement by government, utility companies and new housing developers, of the planning and construction of utility infrastructure elsewhere.”

Dave Rado says:
7 April 2012

What does “a nationwide rollout’s” (with an apostrophe) mean? A nationwide rollout belonging to whom?

I am totally in favour of compulsory water meters. This can easily be achieved over time. Simple example is that whenever a home is sold the seller must install a water meter before the contract can be completed. All new home have to have water meters already. Water companies should be a given a deadline to install water meters into properties that they supply water to and this must be a realisitic time period with legal sanctions for not completing within a set time boundry. Water meters ensure that people actually pay for what they use just as gas and electricity is paid for by the amount used. Ergo heavy water user has a higher bill than a low user.

CP says:
9 May 2012

Can anybody help me? United Utilities removed a water meter from my home voluntarily. We had only lived in the house for a couple of months. Over a year later, despite begging them to allow us to pay rates, they are insisting on reinstating the meter. We have tried to seek help, but no-one is willing or able to help us. We have told UU that we will pay rates happily; even though they will be more expensive. Their argument is that, although they removed the meter voluntarily, we must have a replacement because it was installed for years previously.

The regulator has been completely on their side and hasn’t helped in any way. Our argument is that if the removal was entirely down to UU, surely we should have the right to determine whether or not we should have a replacement.

Can anyone out there help me, please? After a year of arguing and even quoting UU’s own business ethos to them – nonsense on their website about the ethics, morals and fairness with which they do business – we feel incredibly frustrated and victimised.

They want to install the meter in the next couple of days, so any help is needed urgently, please. We live in the north of England. There isn’t compulsory metering here and we have a very high water table as we are on the coast.

Thanks for any help or advice you can give.

You mention fairness, but what can be fairer than metering and paying for what you use?

Those who use little water can save money by having a meter installed.