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Cut your water bills

Big meter savings, freebies & more

By Marcel | Edited by Johanna

Updated February 2016

Water bills in England and Wales will increase by an average of 1% in 2016.

Some saw a small decrease to their bills though, and even if your bill shrinks there are still ways you can save more. The biggest decision is whether to switch from rateable bills to a water meter. For some in England and Wales, switching to a meter may save £100s a year.

Water bill increases...

Water bills across England and Wales increase by an average of 2% in April 2016 – that's an increase of £2/year on the typical bill.

Dee Valley customers will see the most significant increase (5%), yet some water companies are decreasing prices – for example, South Staffordshire bills are decreasing by an average of 2%.

The 2016/17 rates for Scotland are yet to be released. There are no domestic water charges in Northern Ireland.

Unlike with gas and electricity, you can't switch to a cheaper water provider to push your bills down further. But the steps below can help you save by deciding how you're billed (though, sadly, water meters aren't free in Scotland).

2016/2017 price changes

See how much your bill will increase in the full regional table.

Step 1: Can you save £100s with a water meter?

The water market may be privatised, but it's not open to competition, meaning you can't switch and your actions are limited. This means the most important decision is how you're billed. There are two ways you can be billed:

  1. You pay a fixed bill depending on your home's size

    Without a water meter, your bill will be based on your home's 'rateable value'. The amount of water used is irrelevant.

    Before 1990, councils assessed homes to produce rateable values, and they were based on what rent homes could raise in the private market. Criteria for rateable values included the property's size. All homes were last assessed in 1973. Between then and 1990, only new homes were assessed. Since 1990, all new homes have been fitted with water meters.

    There are no plans to change the archaic, rateable value system. Unfortunately, there's no prospect of getting your home's value re-assessed. In Scotland, water bills are based on council tax bands. There are no domestic water charges in Northern Ireland.

  2. You pay for the water you use

    About 40% of homes have a water meter, where the size of your bill depends on your consumption. But as well as water use, water meters usually calculate the sewerage bill too. The sewerage costs are higher than everyday water use (e.g showers) because of the processing involved in pumping waste water out of your home.

    Companies have accused us of talking excrement in the past, but it's true here – "what comes in must go out".

Should you get a water meter?

It's important to work out if a meter is financially worthwhile. As a rough rule of thumb, if there are more or the same number of bedrooms in your house than people, check out getting a meter. Sadly in Scotland it's not free to have a water meter installed (it's actually quite pricey) so, unless you live alone in a manor-type-property, you should stick to estimated payments.

The rough rule of thumb is simple. If there are more bedrooms in your house than people, check out getting a water meter.

How much can you save?

It varies widely depending on your household's usage, but as a rough estimate an average household could save about £100+ a year, or more in some cases. Use the water meter calculators below for how to do a full check.

These water meter successes using this guide show the potential savings:

Switched a few years back and now pay £45 a month less. Plus makes me more conscious of what I use. Fixed dripping tap! - DenwantsJFT96

Thanks, we've water-metered. Monthly direct debit is down from £80 to £25. - Helen Bevington

Before water meter = £54 a month x 10 months. After water meter = £48 a quarter. That's £348 saved a year! - Andy Vickers

Check if a water meter's worth it for you

Whether a water meter's worthwhile depends on your water company and usage. There are two ways this calculation can be done for you. And remember:

You can always try it to see if it saves you. You've a right to switch back within a year, so if it doesn't save you money, ditch it.

Free water meter calculator

The Consumer Council For WaterThe Consumer Council For Water has a free water meter calculator that tells you if you can save with a meter.

It asks you basic questions about your water use – for example how many people live in your house, the number of showers taken a week, your dishwasher use and what you're paying at the moment – then tells you your estimated costs if you got a meter.

If it's less than what you're paying now, you could be quids in.

Alternatively, ask the water company

For a more accurate, albeit time-consuming comparison, call your water company and ask for its water meter calculator. This makes it easier and is a more accurate way of working out whether you'll save.

Will you always save?

Whether you decide to switch depends on the savings. If you'll save a substantial amount it's a good idea, though there are a few more facts to be aware of.

  • If savings are minimal, stick to surety. Water bills give you surety of knowing exactly what you'll pay, regardless of usage.

  • You've a year to try it out. Switch to a water meter and, if you change your mind, you can switch back within 12 months, or a month after your second measured bill, whichever's later. So you can try it to see if it works out for you. But if you move into a home that already has a meter, you can't switch back.

  • Does having a meter hit your house price? Some say meters lower a house's sale price. There is a slim chance it'll put high-use buyers off, but it's rare. So if you're not planning to move soon, ignore it and bag the savings.

  • High water usage can force you onto a meter. If you use large amounts of water for non-necessities such as swimming pools, ultra power showers, sprinklers, or you live in a water-stressed area, a meter will be fitted automatically.

How to get extra savings if you're on a meter

Send meter readings

Ask your provider if it has a low usage tariff

Extra help for those on low incomes and medical needs

Step 2: Refused a meter? Get an assessed bill

Water companies must fit meters for free on request (not in Scotland) unless it's justifiably impractical, such as flats with shared pipes. You can appeal against the decision if a water company says it won't fit a meter. Go to the regulator, Ofwat. If not, ask for an assessed bill.

If the water company says it can't fit a meter and your water usage is limited, ask for an 'assessed charge bill'. This is worked out on details such as how many people live in your home, but varies from company to company.

Some companies don't base assessed charges on the number of people living in the house, but instead offer a single occupancy rate. The most common assessed charges are based on:

  • The number of bedrooms in your property
  • The type of property you live in
  • The number of people who live in the property
  • A fixed charge based on the average metered bill in your company's area

Importantly, if you request a meter and the company's assessed charge is higher than what a metered charge would have been, you can simply stick to your current payment method. So you've nothing to lose by checking.

Step 3: Are you due a light sewerage rebate?

While the water meter billing system's mostly straightforward, it's assumed "what goes in, must come out", and that any water used creates roughly an equivalent amount in sewerage.

The general assumption's that 90-95% goes back. But this can be wrong in a few specific circumstances. If that's the case, you can get serious money back.

Do you have a soakaway?

Do you have a pond, large garden or swimming pool?

Do you have a cesspit or septic tank?

Refused a rebate request? Take it to the Consumer Council for Water

If your water company won't give you a rebate (usually backdated to the beginning of the current billing year), get in touch with your local Consumer Council for Water office. It should be able to help if you feel the company should reasonably have known you weren't connected, for example, if you live in a block of flats and other residents already receive an allowance.

Step 4: Grab free water-saving gadgets

Scores of freebies including £17 shower heads (which help regulate water usage), £10 bath toys and more are up for grabs from water companies across the country.

The gadgets can cut water and energy bills by £100+ if you've a water meter. If you don't, they're still worth it because by reducing water use, they cut the energy used to heat water too.

Water efficiency site Save Water, Save Money collates all the freebies up for grabs. Different firms offer different gadgets, but you can only order from your own provider. Click on your water company below to see what you can get, choose what you want and fill in the form.


Quick questions

Are the freebies any good?

How do I check which company supplies my water?

How many of each device can I get?

How much is delivery?

Step 5: Change your habits

For those on a water meter, saving water means saving money. But for those not on meters, it can slash energy bills and help the environment. Nowadays we use an average 150 litres of water a day per person – our grandparents only used around 20!

Top tips suggested by MoneySavers

Below are some tips collected from MoneySavers (some are not for the faint-hearted). Thanks to Ofwat for suggestions too. We'll start with our favourite. It's not for everyone, but some MoneySavers save it for when using the loo at night...


If that's not quite your thing, here are our other top ten:

  • Don't wallow, shoot into the shower. A quick shower uses far less than a long soak in the tub, so think twice before baths.

  • Save your washing up for one wash. Instead of washing up as you go, save it up and do it in one go to minimise the amount of water used. As one MoneySaver says, it's a great excuse to leave the washing up!

  • Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. Simple but effective!

  • Steam your veggies. Healthier and tastier than boiling them.

  • Clean the car smartly. When you really get to the point where you have to clean the car, use a bucket of hot soapy water and a watering can of clean water to rinse no need to use a hose. Consider using waterless valeting products too.

  • Running your tap to temperature? Fill up empty bottles while you wait for it to heat up and use round the house to water plants or for the kettle.

  • Fish tank water is good for plants. Use dirty water from the fish tank on plants it's rich in nitrogen and phosphorous.
  • Use rainwater for flushing the loo. One MoneySaver's tip: "I use rainwater for flushing the loo, after filtering through muslin. My tanks are 200 gallon metal, sealed, with a large tap. Charcoal in netting, the sort oranges come in, keeps water smelling sweeter. The bucket stands outside the conservatory door or in the bath, with a splash of half strength bleach."

  • Fix leaky taps. Check your meter's not increasing when you're not using water. If it is, get leaks sorted.

  • Turn off the tap when you shower. After initially wetting yourself, turn off the shower until you are ready to rinse clean. One MoneySaver reckons you can shower with almost no water at all.

Want more water-saving ways? Read on...