U.K. government to investigate water metering and charging


Hilary Benn,
Secretary of
State, DEFRA
London, U.K. — (METERING.COM) — February 8, 2008 – The U.K. government plans to commission an independent study later in the year to make recommendations on how metering and charging for water should progress.

The proposal forms part of a new strategy for water supply in England, “Future water”, setting out a vision for the water sector in 2030 for “sustainable delivery of secure water supplies and an improved and protected water environment.”

The government says in “Future water” that metering is the generally accepted method of charging for water in most European countries, and it believes that this is a fair way to pay for water as well as introducing a financial incentive to save water and therefore stimulating water efficiency. In England, however, in 2006/7 water meter levels were at 30 percent, although varying from 7 percent to 66 percent between different water company areas, and while this proportion is increasing, it is predominantly through customer choice. The majority of users continue to pay for water based on the rateable values – generally from the 1970s – of their properties.

However, there is also concern with the affordability aspects. The costs associated with water metering have to be recovered from customers and installing a water meter currently costs just over £200 (US$400). Then there are the additional costs of meter reading and maintenance. Moreover water bills in general have increased above the rate of inflation since 2005, increasing both the proportion of income spent on water and sewerage and the rate of bad debt.

Thus there is now a good case for examining the costs and benefits of metering and appropriate tariffs. The review will assess the effectiveness and fairness of methods of charging, consider the effectiveness of different types of social and block tariffs, assess the appropriate pace of change to near universal metering needed to ensure continuity of supply in areas of water stress, assess the cost of metering, including smart metering, and recommend whether legislation is needed on either charging or metering.

The last review of household water charging in 1997 introduced a ban on disconnection, gave households the right to opt for a free meter and water companies the right to fit meters in households on change of occupancy, and kept rateable values as the basis for unmeasured charging. Since August 2007 water companies in areas of serious water stress in England have been able to introduce compulsory water metering.

Launching the strategy Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn said the review will need to look at social, economic and environmental concerns, and that any proposed change would need to include measures, such as tariffs, that help vulnerable customers.

“Securing and maintaining water supplies is vital to the prosperity of the country and to the health of people and the environment,” said Benn. “We must find ways of improving efficiency, and of reducing demand and wastage.”