Here’s the bad news: The average water and sewerage bill in England and Wales will rise by nearly 6% from April to about £376 per household. And the average figure disguises a myriad of regional variations. Customers of Southern Water, for example, can expect an increase of more than 8%.
The price hikes are part of a five-year plan of annual rises that began in 2010. So, the current round of increases was not the first and it will not be the last, which could cause problems for struggling families. The number of calls to the charity National Debtline for help with water debts went up by one third in 2011, compared to 2010.
But here’s the good news: You cannot pick and choose your water company – the market is not open to competition in the same way as gas and electricity – but you can still save money on your water bills.
Most households receive what’s called an ‘unmeasured bill’, which is based on the size of the home, not the actual water consumption. If you install a meter, you can often save money because you pay only for the water you use.
Ofwat, the industry regulator, estimates that the typical customer could knock up to 10% off their bill by switching to a water meter. But as a rule of thumb, a house that has fewer occupants than bedrooms will save money with a meter.
It’s free to switch, too. Your water company will supply and install the meter at no charge. You can also switch back within the first 12 months if you discover that your metered bills are more expensive.
Some homes – including properties built after 1990 – already have water meters. But they can still save money by using less water. A water-efficient shower head, spray taps and a water displacement device in the toilet cistern can all reduce water consumption.
And turn off the tap when you are brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing your face as a running tap wastes more than six litres of water a minute.