Water meters could be on the way for many, Environment Agency warns

Soaring water bills could be on the way for many more families after the number of suppliers that can force households to have a meter doubled.

Water companies in areas deemed to be “in serious water stress” must evaluate compulsory metering, with a further 7 added to the list in the most recent Environment Agency review.

Areas in “water stress” are where demand is too high compared with rainfall in a given area.

The Times reports that in some cases a family of five could see their annual water and sewage charge jump from £472 to £1,255, while those who live on their own in a big house could pay less.

Companies that were already allowed to install meters without seeking consumers’ permission are Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, SES Water and Affinity Water. Anglian Water and Essex and Suffolk Water could have applied to join them but did not.

After the latest Environment Agency reportthe first review of its kind since 2013, Cambridge Water, Portsmouth Water, South Staffordshire Water, Severn Trent Water (excluding Chester), Veolia Water, Wessex Water and South West Water can also apply for compulsory meters.

Non-metered bills are based on a formula that uses a fixed charge and a property’s value in the 1970s.

When a meter is installed households are still charged a flat rate for two years, and are told what estimated bills will be beyond that to encourage people to use less water.

Having a meter installed is optional except in water-stressed areas where suppliers can apply to the government to have compulsory metering.

In non-stressed areas of England and Wales customers are usually given two years to trial a meter – with an option to switch back if they are not happy.

However the meter will remain installed even if households switch and the next occupants of the property will pay metered charges with no alternative.

People who live in areas where compulsory metering has been approved cannot refuse to have a water meter installed.

As a general rule, if there are more people in a property than bedrooms, billpayers will be worse off with a meter.

The cost of water will rise 1.7 per cent in April on average, but bills will go up 10.8per cent and 10per cent in Essex and Suffolk, which successfully appealed to the Competition and Markets Authority to charge more to cover running costs and future improvements.

The Environment Agency report, published in July 2021, said: “Our understanding of the current and future pressures on water resources has improved significantly since 2013. This includes the impacts of population growth, climate change and environmental requirements.”

It said water companies in stressed areas “must evaluate compulsory metering alongside other options” and take their findings to the next water resource management plan meeting in 2024, when they may be granted permission to force homeowners to accept meters.

A list of those planning to do so will be published in the autumn.

Karen Gibbs, the policy manager at CCW, told the Times: “Any transition to compulsory metering needs to be done over a significant period to allow households time to understand their water use and how that could impact their bill.”

The Consumer Council for Water (CCW) calculator can be used to work out what you would pay on a meter at ccwater.org.uk.

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