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Water meters: the rights of customers and water companies

Published Friday, February 17, 2017

This Commons Library Briefing Paper explains the powers that customers and water companies have in opting for charging with water meters. It also provides an overview of the relevant Government policy and legislation.

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The current charging system for water in England and Wales is based on a mix of metered charging and the rateable value of the property being charged. Individual customers can check their water bills to see how they are being charged for water.

As at 5 March 2014, 41% of customers in England and 34% of customers in Wales paid for water by a meter.

Can a domestic customer choose to have a water meter?

Domestic customers who currently pay on an unmeasured (unmetered) basis have the legal right at any time to give their water company a notice requiring them to fix charges by reference to the volume of water supplied (i.e. on a metered basis). Tenants also have a right to ask for a meter but it is recommended that they ask permission from their landlord first. If a tenancy agreement is for less than 6 months a tenant must ask permission from their landlord.

A water company is not obliged to give effect to the customer's notice if it is not reasonably practicable to do so, or if it is unreasonably expensive.

Can a water company insist on the installation of a water meter?

In practice, a water company can install a water meter and charge on that basis, if the household customer:

  • uses an automatic watering device (such as a garden sprinkler);
  • automatically fill a swimming pool or pond;
  • has a large bath;
  • uses a reverse osmosis softening unit;
  • has a power shower;
  • is the new occupier of a property (provided an unmetered bill has not already been sent to that occupier); or
  • lives in an area which has been determined by the Secretary of State to be an area of serious water stress and subject to a metering programme as part of a plan to maintain secure water supplies.

It is at the discretion of the water company to decide which type of meter it proposes to use (e.g. whether it is a smart meter), as long as they comply with relevant UK and EU requirements.

Water companies are allowed to do this because the Water Industry Act 1991 (as amended) includes provisions to allow water companies to install water meters and require that the water is paid for on that basis. This right is only restricted when certain conditions or circumstances set out in the W​ater Industry (Prescribed Conditions) Regulations 1999​​apply.

Does this mean there is compulsory metering in some parts of the country?

No water company is required to introduce compulsory metering. The legislation simply gives water companies the power to choose to use metering as a way of managing water resources in their area.

Which areas are classified as in "serious water stress"?

The water company water stress designations were updated in July 2013, using up-to-date evidence for determining the level of water stress for areas in England and Wales. The following water company areas were classified as areas of serious water stress by the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales (2013 classifications):

  • Affinity Water
  • Anglian Water
  • Essex and Suffolk Water
  • South East Water
  • Southern Water
  • Sutton and East Surrey Water
  • Thames Water

The Secretary of State may revoke or modify any determination at any time.

Can a customer refuse to have a water meter?

If one of more of the conditions for metering outlined above applies to a customer, the water company is allowed to install a meter and charge on that basis. A customer cannot refuse a meter in these circumstances.

Devolved Administrations

This Briefing Paper relates to England only, unless otherwise specified.

For information on water meters in Wales, detailed advice is available from the Citizens Advice Page on Water Meters and the Welsh Water page on water meters and guidance on having a water meter.

For information specific to Scotland, detailed advice is available from the Citizens Advi​ce Page on Water Meters and the Scottish Water page on water meters.

For information on water meters in Northern Ireland, please refer to the NI Water statement on water meters and the CCWater for Northern Ireland page on water charging.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7342

Author: Sara Priestley

Topics: Utilities, Water industry

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