Cut your water bills

Big meter savings, freebies & more

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

In this guide

Water Bills – the forgotten utility, but you can still save

Everyone knows that you can switch gas and electricity provider, typically saving £100s/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 to a water meter a few years back and now pay £45 a month less. Plus makes me more conscious of what I use - I fixed a 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, so the key question is whether you should switch to 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.

Average prices increased in April (though bills dropped for some)

Water bills across England and Wales increased by an average of 2% in April 2018 – that's a rise of £9/year on the typical bill. United Customers of Utilities were hit by the most significant increase (4%), yet some water companies reduced prices – eg, Affinity Water East's bills fell by an average of 4%.

In Scotland, the combined service charge increased by 1.7% – that means since 1 April those in tax band A, for example,  pay £292/year, while those in tax band D pay £437/year.

  • Water bill changes 2018/19 based on average use – England & Wales

    Anglian Water £428 +£3 +1%
    Dwr Cymru £439 +£8 +2%
    Northumbrian (not Essex & Suffolk) £402 +£12 +3%
    Severn Trent £348 +£10 +3%
    South West Water (1) £491 -£14 -3%
    Southern Water £436 +£11 +3%
    Thames Water £383 +£7 +2%
    United Utilities £435 +£18 +4%
    Wessex Water £479 +£3 +1%
    Yorkshire Water £385 +£12 +3%
    Water-only (you'll be billed for sewerage by one of the companies above)     % change (water only)
    Affinity Water Central £172 -£2 -1%
    Affinity Water East £175 -£7 -4%
    Affinity Water Southeast £204 -£1 -1%
    Bournemouth Water £142 £0 0%
    Bristol £185 +£6 +3%
    Cambridge £140 +£5 +4%
    Dee Valley £157 +£6 +4%
    Essex & Suffolk £251 +£6 +2%
    Portsmouth £102 +£2 +2%
    South East £210 +£5 +2%
    South Staffordshire £147 +£5 +3%
    Sutton & East Surrey £193 £5 +3%
          Total change (combined bill)
    Industry average (weighted) £405 £9 +2%
    Source: Water UK. The value columns above show the forecast average annual household combined water and sewerage bills for 2018/19.

    The household bill is an average across all customers. Individual bills may be more or less than the average because of their particular characteristics, eg, if they've a water meter. Changes to bills will vary by company.

    (1) Since April 2013, customers of South West Water have benefited from a Government Contribution, which reduces the bill by £50/year. This £50 reduction is applied to the combined average bill in this table. Without the Government Contribution, South West Water's combined average bill would be £541.

Step 1: Can you save £100s with 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 (eg, 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.

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 calculator 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 money. You've a right to switch back within two years – so if it doesn't work out, ditch it.

Free water meter calculator

The 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 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.

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 two years to try it out. Switch to a water meter and, if you change your mind, you can switch back within 24 months. 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

  • Like gas and electricity bills, water bills can sometimes be based on estimated usage, so you can be charged more than you're using. Check with your water company and send regular meter readings to ensure you're being charged only for what you're using.

  • Some water companies offer special tariffs for low users which have no standing charge, but a higher charge per cubic metre.

  • If you have a water meter and someone in your household receives certain benefits, it may be possible to get the amount you pay capped. You also need to have either three or more children under 19 in full-time education, or someone in your household has to have a medical condition that means they use extra water.

    If you're accepted, your costs will be limited to the average household bill for your water company, however much water you use. Average savings can be around £250/year. To sign up, contact your supplier for an application form or find out more on Ofwat's WaterSure page.

    Also check if you're eligible for help paying for water arrears in the Grant Grabbing guide.

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.

  • 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-£50/year 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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 free water-saving gadgets from your water company year-round, including £20 shower heads (which help regulate water usage), tap inserts (to regulate the flow of water from your tap, worth £5) and Save-A-Flush bags (bags you place into your toilet cistern so each flush uses less water, worth £2).

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

  • You can plug your postcode into its savings engine, 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, let you compare with your neighbours and offer 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. (If you're with Thames Water you'll need to use the calculator.)

All items are delivered for free by every supplier, and they should arrive within 28 days.

According to Save Water Save Money, the gadgets could 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 your water use, they cut the energy you use to heat water.

If your water company doesn't offer freebies through Save Water Save Money, contact it directly to see what's available.

Quick questions

  • The water-saving freebies are worth between £1-£20.

    But the real key is that they all help cut your water and energy bills. Savings vary by supplier and usage, but the Energy Saving Trust estimates that replacing an inefficient shower head with a water efficient one could save a family of four £75 on their gas bill and about £120 on their water bill (if metered).

  • You can only get the freebies from your water company. So to find yours check your bill, or you can just put your postcode in. There's a full list of water companies on the Water UK website.

  • You can get one of each item per household. If you want more of the same water-saving devices, you can buy them at DIY shops.

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 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.

Please suggest any other tips or tricks in the Cheap Water Bills thread.

Can you avoid using the hosepipe?

Here are some top tips to keep your garden watered and your 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 valeting 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 free. Leave it in your garden to collect rainwater 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.

  • Recycle tea water. Empty the cold dregs from the tea onto 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; 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!

  • 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 500-1,000 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, 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 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 tool which shows you how to get water devices from your water firm at Save Water Save Money.

    • 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.

    • 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.