Tips on how to save money – and water – from the money-saving expert.
In this country, we have the worst of both worlds when it comes to water. Firstly, privatised companies but no competition. On top of which, most households in England and Wales receive bills where the price is fixed depending on a home’s ”rateable value”.
Yet don’t despair – as this tweet I recently received shows, you can take action and make serious savings:
“@AdamMcArdle: On rates we were paying £78/month on water. Now on meter somewhere around £30/month.” – that’s £580 a year less.
Those with some grey in their hair will remember Rates; these were abolished way back in 1990 and were based roughly on how much your home could be rented out for.
Which means that as millions of households up and down the country face water and sewerage bills hiked by an average 5.7 per cent, those bills are actually based on anachronistic 1989 valuations – when Jason and Kylie were topping the charts and the Berlin Wall was tumbling
And whereas, with council tax, you can challenge your banding if you think it’s too high (full how-to at www.mse.me/council), there’s absolutely no facility to allow challenges to rates-based water bills.
Do you have more bedrooms in your home than people?
The problem with the rates system is that those living alone and practising the life of a water-saving maharishi – taking a monthly bath and using the same water to wash clothes and the car – pay exactly the same as a neighbour with eight kids and a nervous bladder.
So here’s my simple rule of thumb: if you have more or the same number of bedrooms in your home as you do people, check out whether you will save by switching to a water meter.
After all, water bills are based roughly on house value, so a large, sparsely populated home is likely to be disproportionately costly. Plus, as meters are free, switching should be worthwhile (you pay in Scotland, so it’s not worth it there).
Do note, though, that I said ”check out” switching, not ”definitely switch”. The fact is, not everyone will save, so try online calculators at the Consumer Council for Water (ccwater.org.uk) or at uswitch.com/water.
If the savings look good, or you’re not online, contact your local water company to ask for their formal calculation, but first, take note of these points:
If your savings are going to be minimal, don’t switch
If you’re only slightly better off on a meter, financially it’s worth sticking to water bills, as more usage won’t cost more. That said, of course, those of an environmental bent may prefer to be metered anyway.
You have a year to try it
You’re allowed to switch back within a year (or a month after your second measured bill, whichever is later). So you can change your mind.
Some people say meters hit house prices. There is a slim chance that the presence of a water meter will put high-use buyers off, but it’s rare, and, on the other hand, some buyers like a meter. Besides, a meter roll-out across the country is likely at some stage anyway, so unless you’ve an imminent move planned, most people should bag some savings.
Do regular meter readings
If you are on a water meter, it’s always worth providing regular readings to keep the bills more accurate.
Are you eligible for Water-Sure reductions?
If you’re on a meter, in receipt of benefits and either looking after more than two children or have a medical condition that requires higher water usage, you may qualify for the WaterSure tariff which caps your bills (see ofwat.gov.uk).
If the water company won’t give you a meter
It’s possible, of course, that the company may say your property isn’t right for a meter (this typically happens in blocks of flats). In which case, ask for an “assessed tariff”. This is a rough assessment of how much water you’re likely to use, and thus how much you’d pay on a meter.
Also, if you live alone you may also be eligible for a lower Single Occupancy Tariff. Many make substantial savings with this option.
When spending a penny costs a fortune
Water bills usually assume that what goes in must come out, and therefore roughly 90 to 95 per cent of the water used will manifest itself in sewerage. Yet if you live in a small town or village and have a ”soakaway”, ie a pit of gravel that collects surface rainwater, you’ll send less water through the sewers and should ask for money deducted from your bill.
The same goes for anyone on a meter who has a swimming pool in their garden. If you’re pumping a large volume of water from an outside tap that isn’t being washed away down the drain, you’re due a discount.
If you’re not even connected to the mains sewerage, and have a septic tank or cesspit, you don’t have to pay sewerage charges at all and could save between £110 and £220. If your water company makes a fuss about giving you a rebate, contact the Consumer Council for Water.