Cut your water bills
Big meter savings, freebies & more
Water is the forgotten utility – many think they can't save, but we've seen successes from those who have slashed £100s off their bills by fitting water meters and cutting down on how much they use.
1-min read: Is it worth getting a water meter & what freebies can I bag?
You can't switch between water providers, so you're limited in what you can do to cut how much you pay. Here are a few quick tips on what you can do – for a comprehensive list of water-saving tips, you can read our full guide below:
1. If there are more bedrooms in your home than people, or the same number, check out getting a meter. The Consumer Council for Water has a free water meter calculator that tells you if you can save with a meter. It asks questions about your water use and tells you your estimated costs if you have a meter.
2. Households can bag a range of free water-saving gadgets. The free gadgets include shower heads (which help regulate water usage), tap inserts (to regulate water flow), garden hose nozzles (also to regulate flow) and 'Buffaloo' cistern bags (which you place into your toilet cistern so each flush uses less water).
Water bills – the forgotten utility, but you can still save
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 to a water meter a few years back and now pay £45 a month less. Plus it makes me more conscious of what I use – I fixed a dripping tap!
Thanks, we've water-metered. Monthly direct debit is down from £80 to £25.
While you can't switch to a cheaper water provider to reduce your bills, 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, so the key question is whether you should switch to a meter or not. 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.
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. Your bills are estimated, so you pay a fixed amount 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 rateable value system and there's no prospect of getting your home's value reassessed. 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 have a water meter, so you only pay for what 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 (such as 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".
If you're in England or Wales, to see if a water meter is right for you, first of all you need to work out if a meter is financially worthwhile. Here's Martin's rule of thumb:
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. There are no domestic water charges in Northern Ireland, so no need for a meter.
How much can you save?
It varies depending on your household's usage, but we regularly see successes of £100s a year. Use the water meter calculator below to do a full check.
Whether a meter's worthwhile depends – as we've said – on your usage, but also your water company. There are two ways this calculation can be done for you – see the box below. And remember, you can always try it to see if it saves you money. Most have up to two years to change back free of charge – so if it doesn't work out, ditch it.
The Consumer Council for Water has a free water meter calculator that tells you if you can save with a meter.
It asks questions about your water use – for example, how many people live in your home, 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 have 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.
If you're weighing up whether to get a meter, there are a few more facts to be aware of...
- If savings are minimal, stick with certainty. Non-metered water bills give you surety of knowing exactly what you'll pay, regardless of usage.
- You may have up to two years to try it out. Switch to a water meter and, if you change your mind, you may be able to switch back within 12 months, though many companies offer up to 24 months (others don't offer a choice). However, if you move into a home that already has a meter, you can't switch back. Check with your supplier to find out your options.
- Having a water meter shouldn't affect your home's value. Some say meters lower a property's sale price. There's 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.
- Higher water usage may force you on to a meter. If you use large amounts of water for non-necessities such as swimming pools or sprinklers, or if you live in a water-stressed area, a meter will be fitted automatically. Some water companies – mainly those in south east England – are rolling out metering programmes, meaning households in some areas will need to have a meter fitted and won't have the option to switch back to an unmetered supply.
How to get a water meter
To get a water meter installed, you can head over to your provider's website and see if you can apply – you'll usually need to fill in an application form – or give it a call and ask.
It's free to get one installed and water meters can be fitted inside and outside your home.
Once a meter's installed, the supplier should give you an information pack detailing your new charges and update your online account.
If you have a water meter, your measured usage may have gone up over the past year due to lockdown. If this is the case, companies have been increasing direct debits to cover potential future costs. If you think you will start using less in the coming months, get in touch with your provider to revise the direct debit down. See our Water firms upping direct debits of metered customers MSE News story for ways to check that you are not overpaying for your water.
After reading your email about water bill increases, I called up [to challenge it] and saved £108/year. Thank you all at MSE. I get so much information and save so much from you.
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.
If you're having trouble paying your water bill and have fallen into debt, contact your water company to see what help it can offer. All companies offer some kind of help – this can be anything from providing repayment plans, discounts or even a cap on how much you pay.
What's available varies from company to company. Don't worry if you're unsure which scheme is best for you. Call your provider and it will assess your circumstances and decide which one will save you the most money.
If you're on a low combined income (about £21,000 a year or less) and/or receiving certain benefits, all water companies offer various social tariffs that can slash as much as 90% off your bill by lowering or even capping what you pay, whether you have a meter or not. Apply by contacting your water company. It will assess your circumstances by asking about your income and recommend the tariff that'll save you the most money.
The Consumer Council for Water provides a full list of the tariffs available from the different suppliers.
It may also be possible to get a reduced or capped bill through the national WaterSure scheme, available through all water companies.
To qualify, you must have a water meter and have three or more children under the age of 19 in full-time education, or live with someone with a medical condition that means they use extra water.
You (or someone living with you) will also need to receive one of the following benefits:
- Universal credit
- Housing benefit
- Income support
- Income-based jobseeker's allowance
- Working tax credit
- Child tax credit (except families receiving the family element only)
- Pension credit
- Income-related employment and support allowance
If you're accepted your bills will be capped, so regardless of how much water you use, you won't pay more than your supplier's average household cost. Typical savings can be about £250 a year. To sign up, contact your supplier for an application form.
Also check if you're eligible for help paying for water arrears in our Housing & energy grants guide.
If you've fallen behind with your water bill, call your water company and ask for help. All water companies should offer you a repayment or 'restart' plan, whether you're on a meter or not. These repayment plans differ between companies, but a common example is that the firm will match each payment you make. So for every £1 you pay, the water company will also pay £1 towards your bill.
Some companies will even wipe some of your debt if you continue to make repayments under your plan or increase the amount that's matched. For example, after six months for every £1 you pay towards your debt, the company will pay £2 towards your bill, which helps you pay off your debt quicker.
The water company will consider your situation and carry out a financial assessment to see which option will best suit.
Many water companies in England and Wales offer schemes and/or have charity funds to help customers with genuine reasons for being in debt or struggling to pay their water bills. This can mean a one-off payment to wipe all or part of your debt.
- Dwr Cymru Customer Assistance Fund
- Severn Trent Trust Fund
- Thames Water Customer Assistance Fund
- United Utilities Trust Fund
Any customer of these firms can apply, but each supplier has its own application process and applicants are assessed on a case-by-case basis – so only those who really need help will get it. If successful, you'll get help with clearing your water debt (for example, Dwr Cymru will pay off 50% of your debt if you've made repayments for six months). And some can even help with other debts you might have, such as if you've fallen behind on your energy or council tax bill.
If you need help filling in the application form, you can contact Citizens Advice which can help you.
Not with any of the water companies above?
Unfortunately, you won't be able to access the funds above, but the charity Turn2us has a handy grant search tool for local charity groups that may be able to help.
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 is 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 a mains sewer. To apply for a rebate, just fill in 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, for example, 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.
- Do you have a cesspit or septic tank? If you're in an area with no connection to the 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 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.
Over a million free water-saving gadgets are up for grabs
Households across much of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can bag a range of free insulation and water-saving gadgets, and right now, there are more available than we've ever seen. While the freebies are funded by the water companies, it's water efficiency company Save Water Save Money that manages the distribution of 'em.
You can get one item each per household, but what's available varies by water company, where you live and what's available at the time.
While the freebies are available all year, more stock has been added for summer, with over a million gadgets on offer right now.
The gadgets include shower heads (which help regulate water usage, normally £20), tap inserts (to regulate water flow, normally £5), shower timers (usually £2.50, to help you cut down), garden hose nozzles (to regulate flow, normally £2.50) and 'Buffaloo' cistern bags (which you place into your toilet cistern so each flush uses less water, normally £2).
How do I check if I can get them and how do I apply?
How you check and apply depends on which water company you're with...
- If you're with Bournemouth Water, Bristol Water, South East Water, South West Water or Yorkshire Water, you can go straight to the freebies via this Save Water Save Money link. Simply enter your postcode in the 'free water-saving devices' box to see what's available, then enter your details to get 'em sent for free within 28 days.
- If you're with Affinity Water, Cambridge Water, Dwr Cymru, Hafren Dyfrdwy, Portsmouth Water, SES Water, Severn Trent, South Staffs Water, Wessex Water, NI Water, Jersey Water, Scottish Water, Southern Water or United Utilities, you'll need to use Save Water Save Money's savings calculator to access the freebies.
- If you're with Anglian, Essex & Suffolk, Northumbrian or Thames Water, they're not part of Save Water Save Money's promotion, but you can sometimes get the freebies if you go direct to their websites.
How much could I save?
Savings vary by supplier and usage, but the Energy Saving Trust estimates that replacing an inefficient shower head with an efficient one could save a family of four £75 on their gas bill and about £120 on their water bill (if metered) each year.
And with the new winter insulation freebies, not only could you cut down on leaks, but they will protect you from costly repair bills from burst pipes.
What's more, reducing water consumption helps the environment. The Energy Saving Trust says it can cut energy use, reduce the impact on your local environment and limit carbon dioxide emissions by using less energy to pump, heat and treat the water.
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 tips:
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.
- 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.
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.
Here are some top tips to keep your garden watered or car clean without a hosepipe.
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 products too.
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.
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.
Fish-tank water is good for plants. Use dirty water from the fish tank on plants – it's rich in nitrogen and phosphorous.
Save rainwater – get a water butt. Sometimes you can pick these up for free. Use it to collect rainwater and you'll have a constant supply for the plants when you need it. Make sure you keep it covered so the water doesn't evaporate when it's needed most.
Recycle tea water. Empty the cold dregs from the tea on to house plants.
Use leftover tumble-dryer water. If you use a condensing tumble dryer and it's ventless, use the condensed water in your watering can or iron.
Share your bath... with your lawn. Run a hosepipe up to your bathroom and siphon bathwater out of the window to your plants.
Build 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 snails and newts to the pond afterwards!
Collect water. Stand a washing-up bowl in the shower. Use the water for the garden and house plants.
Use a watering can instead of a hose. Use a watering can in the garden instead of a sprinkler or hosepipe. Garden sprinklers and hosepipes left running can use 500 to 1,000 litres of water an hour.
Want more tips to keep your garden growing? Ask our greenfingered MoneySavers.
Use your head – swap rinse-out 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.
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.
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.
Get a dual-flush loo. Use the small flush for number ones, or the stronger flush for bigger jobs!
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 to get the soap off. This saves water, and ensures there's still enough hot water to last the day out.
Shave and save. Use half a mug of water while shaving to get rid of hair by dipping the razor in the mug and churning it.
Use a Save-A-Flush. Many water companies offer free Save-A-Flush bags that go in your loo's cistern, so you don't use as much water. It's good for the environment and saves roughly a tenner a year.
If you can't be bothered to contact your water firm 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 tool that shows you how to get water devices from your water firm at Save Water Save Money.
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 use as little as 10 to 15 litres of water a cycle.
Plus, for a rundown on your right to free tap water when out and about, check out our free tap water Q&A.
Clever ways to calculate your finances