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Marcel | Edited by Johanna

Updated September 2016

Water is the forgotten utility - many think they can't save but we're inundated with successes from those who've saved £100s by fitting water meters and cutting down on how much they use

Despite water bills increasing by up to 5% in April 2016, many in England and Wales can still save big. We've a step-by-step guide on how you can save.

Water bills - the forgotten utility, but you can still save

Everyone knows that you can switch gas and electricity provider, saving £300+/year by doing so. People assume that because you can't switch water company, you can't save. Yet huge savings are still possible when it comes to water bills. Here's some inspiration before you start...

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

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

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 some save by deciding how you're billed.

How you pay for water depends on where you are in the country. In England and Wales, your water supplier changes depending on where you live and the question is to meter or not to meter? We go through the pros and cons of getting a water meter and whether you should take the plunge (sorry) below.

In Scotland it's simple, water and sewerage prices depend on the council tax band for your home and are covered by a 'combined service charge', and in Northern Ireland there are no domestic water charges. Yet you (and everyone else) can still save by cutting down on how much water you use – not only is this good for the environment but it also reduces the amount of energy you need to spend heating the water you use.

2016/2017 price hikes (or drops for some)

Water bills across England and Wales increased by an average of 1% in April 2016 – that's a rise of £2/year on the typical bill. Dee Valley customers saw the most significant increase (5%), yet some water companies are decreasing prices – eg, in South Staffordshire bills fell by an average of 2%.

In Scotland the combined service charge rose 1.6% – that means from 1 April, those in tax band A, for example, will pay £283/year while those in tax band D will pay £424/year.

Find out how much your water bill increased 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 between providers so you're limited in what you can do to cut how much you pay. 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 and included in a 'combined service charge' along with other services. There are no domestic water charges in Northern Ireland.

  2. You pay for the water you use

    Around half of all 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, and here's the killer rule to remember:

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. If you're in Northern Ireland, there are no domestic water charges, so you've no need for a 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.

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 calculator, as this'll be the best indicator of 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 or who have 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 the water company actually 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

In England and Wales, it's possible to get totally free water-saving gadgets from your water company year round, including £21 shower heads (which help regulate water usage), £10 bath toys, £7 tap aerators (to regulate the flow of water from your tap) and £2 save-a-flush bags.

Water efficiency site Save Water Save Money collates all the freebies up for grabs:

  • You can plug your postcode into its calculator, then take a few minutes to fill in details of your water use – it'll give you a free report on how you can cut down your usage and offer you the freebies that are best for you.
  • Alternatively you can go straight to the freebies – you just need to enter your postcode then click through to your company to see the freebies available. Though if you're with Thames Water you'll need to do the calculator.

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

If your water company doesn't offer freebies through Save Water Save Money (14 do, covering England and some parts of Wales), contact it directly to see what's available.

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). 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...