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Water meters: the rights of customers and water companies

Published Thursday, June 27, 2019

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 or a fixed charge based on the rateable value of the property. Individual customers can check their water bills to see how they are being charged for water. This briefing primarily relates to England.

Environment Agency figures from March 2017 showed 50% of households in England had a water meter fitted.

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 install a meter in response to a customer’s request 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 fills 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.

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

No water company is required to introduce universal 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 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

Can a water company insist on a smart meter?

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).

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 can install a meter and charge on that basis. A customer cannot refuse a meter in these circumstances nor object to the type of meter (for example a smart meter).

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, 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, NI Water webpage your bill and our charges and the CCWater for Northern Ireland page on water charging.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7342

Authors: Georgina Hutton; Sara Priestley

Topics: Utilities, Water industry

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