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Cut your water bills Big savings with a meter, grabbing freebies & more

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Water companies in England and Wales hiked bills by an average 2% in April. In some instances the rises were 5%. Here's how to cut the costs.

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 £100+ a year. Follow our steps below to save and limit the price hike impact.

Water bills for most people in England and Wales increased by an average 2% on 1 April - that's £8/year more on typical bills. Bristol Water customers suffered the highest rise at 5%, while only South West Water customers saw prices drop. In Scotland they have risen by 1.6% on average.

Unlike with gas and electricity, you can't switch to a cheaper water provider to fight back against the price hikes. But the steps below can help you save by deciding how you're billed (though, sadly, water meters aren't free in Scotland).

2014/2015 price rises

You can find estimates for how much your bill is likely to have risen, in these full regional tables

Step 1: Can you save £100s with a 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.

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 above 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.

The quick way. Use a comparison service

Consumer Council For Water

The Consumer Council For WaterThe Consumer Council For Water has a calculator that tells you if you can save with a meter. It asks questions about the number of showers taken a week, dishwasher use, and more.

Link: Consumer Council For Water

The accurate way. Ask the water company

For a more accurate, but time-consuming comparison, call your water company and ask for its water meter calculator, which makes it easy for you to work 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.

Extra savings for those on a meter

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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.

Refused a water meter? Ask for an assessed bill - you've nothing to lose

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?

    This is a large underground gravel pit that collects water from the roof or drive. They're more likely in a small town or village than an urban area. If unsure, check property deeds or see your local authority to check the planning application.

    Water companies should give rebates to those whose surface rainwater goes into a soakaway or straight into a river or canal, rather than mains sewers. This is usually between £20-£40/yr and can be claimed whether you're on a meter or not. To apply for a rebate, just fill out your water company's form. Call or go online to request it.
  • Do you have a pond, large garden or swimming pool?

    If you're on a meter and use lots of water from an outside tap, you can contact your water company to ask for a reduction in your bill. If you can show you haven't poured the water down the drain, you shouldn't have to pay the sewerage charge. But the onus is on you to prove water hasn't gone back to the sewer.

    The usual scenario when this would apply is a large one-off amount of water, eg, filling a pond or pool. If it's more regular, ongoing use, it's possible to prove it by fitting a water meter to your outside tap, though that's expensive. United Utilities and South West Water won't consider giving a rebate.
  • Do you have a cesspit or septic tank?

    If you're in an area with no connection to mains sewerage, so have a cesspit or septic tank, you don't have to pay sewerage charges. This only applies to a few people, but you should query any charges paid for sewerage services if your property isn't connected to the main sewerage system.

Refused 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...

  • 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!
  • Conserve water and 'mulch' your garden plants
    Mulching garden plants, covering with wood chippings or leaf mould reduces the need for watering as they'll retain moisture for longer. See the BBC's how to mulch.
  • Love the shade - keep plants out of the sun
    Moving pot plants and house plants out of the sun helps limit the amount of water they need once they've had their fair share of sunshine.
  • Watering the plants? Don't forget your roots
    Use the simple trick of an upside-down water bottle with holes in it to get water direct to the roots of your plants. This should help save waste.
  • Turn it off - don't run the tap
    When cleaning, don't run the tap. Instead use a wash bowl to rinse cloths.
  • Bundle into the bath
    Get up close and personal with your other half and share your bath. Or put the kids in together to save water.
  • 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.
  • Don't bathe pets, keep Fido dry
    Check with your vet, but it can be bad for their skin and they may not need it unless they require medicated baths or have rolled in something awful.
  • Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth
    Simple but effective!
  • Steam your veggies
    Healthier and tastier than boiling them.
  • 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.
  • Get a dual-flush loo
    Use the small flush for oneses, or the stronger flush for bigger jobs!
  • Save rain water - get a water butt
    Sometimes you can pick these up free. Leave it in your garden to collect rain water and you'll have a constant supply of water for the plants when you need it. Make sure you keep it covered so the water doesn't evaporate when it's needed most.
  • 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.
  • The efficient way to wash your hair
    If it's not a cold day, wash your hair and then soap up a sponge. Turn the water to a dribble while you soap up, then finish with a quick blast at the end to get the soap off. This saves water, and ensures there's still enough hot water to last the day out.
  • Recycle tea water
    Empty the cold dregs from the tea onto house plants.
  • Fish tank water is good for plants
    Use dirty water from fish tank on plants - it's rich in nitrogen and phosphorous.
  • Shave and save
    Use half a mug of water while shaving, get rid of hair by dipping the razor in the mug and churning it.
  • Water your plants with sponges
    Put sponges at the bottom of plants and baskets. It will stop the water seeping out and mean you should have to water your plants less.
  • Use your head - swap rinse-in hair conditioner for a leave-in version
    Don't use hair conditioner in the shower that you have to rinse out, use a leave-in version.
  • Use leftover tumble dryer water
    If you use a condensing tumble dryer and it's ventless, collect the condensed water in a removable reservoir and pour it straight into your watering can or iron.
  • 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 sinc type, 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."
  • Share your bath... with your lawn
    Run a hosepipe up to your bathroom; siphon bathwater out the window to plants.
  • Build a pond
    Dig a pond. It's great for wildlife and will provide hours of relaxation. Best of all it's the biggest reservoir you can create, even beating water butts for volume. Dip into it with your watering can as needed, returning the pond snails and newts afterwards!
  • Use a save-a-flush
    Many water companies offer free save-a-flush bags that go in the loo, so you don't use as much water. It's good for the environment and saves roughly a tenner a year (see the save-a-flush discussion).

    If you can't be bothered to contact your water authority for one, fill up a one-litre (two-litre for bigger savings) fizzy drink bottle with water and it should do the same job.

    There's a list of how to get water devices from some water firms at Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
  • Fix leaky taps
    Check your meter's not increasing when you're not using water. If it is, get leaks sorted.
  • Buy efficient white goods
    If you're looking to replace your dishwasher or washing machine, get some tips from the Waterwise or Save Water, Save Money websites.
  • Collect water
    Stand a washing up bowl in the shower. Use the water for the garden and house plants.
  • Load up the washing machine
    Wait until you've a full load before using your washing machine or dishwasher. Some new washing machines use less than seven litres of water for each kilogram of clothes, while modern dishwashers can us as little as 10 to 15 litres of water a cycle.
  • Use a watering can instead of a hose
    Use a watering can in the garden instead of a sprinkler or a hosepipe. Garden sprinklers and hosepipes left running can use 500-1,000 litres of water an hour.

Plus, for a run-down on your right to free tap water when out and about, check out our Free Tap Water Q&A.

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