Water bills: I haven’t heard much about them, should I be worried?

With much of the recent talk about utilities focussed on the astronomical increases in energy prices, we thought it was worth taking a few minutes to discuss the oft-forgotten water bill.

Q1 - Is my water getting more expensive?

Water is one of the rare cases where your bill might actually be going down. But whether it is going up or down depends on who your water utility is. In England and Wales the water regulator OFWAT determines what each utility can charge each year. Your utility is determined by your location so you’re stuck with the one you have and can't switch to a cheaper one.

This big graphic shows how expensive water is for a typical household by utility and whether the price it’s getting cheaper or more expensive.

Average annual household combined water and sewerage bills (£) 2020-23

Source: Water UK

To put water into perspective, a typical household’s annual water bill is around £400. That compares to typical energy bills of £1,500 or more. The changes in pricing for a typical household can be up to £40 a year. A 10% change is not insignificant and adds to the mounting cost of living crisis, but in absolute terms it is much less dramatic than the hundreds of pounds that your energy bills might be increasing.

Q2 - My water is getting more expensive. What can I do about it?

If you have a water meter really the only thing you can do is try and use less water. Unfortunately there are no silver bullets here. As this Thames Water guide shows it comes down to boring things like fixing leaky toilets and taking shorter showers.

If you don’t have a water meter, then your bill is the same regardless of how much water you use. Clearly using less water is better for the planet, but it’s not going to reduce your water bill. (But of course, if you use less hot water then that will reduce your energy bill.)

If you think you use less water than is typical for a flat or house of your type then it may be beneficial to request a water meter which should be installed free of charge. You can do this by contacting your utility. Usually googling ‘how to get a water meter’ and the name of your utility is the quickest way to figure out the process

If you get a water meter and find your bill actually goes up, within the first year you can request that you go back to being billed your old flat rate instead of using your metered usage. Your utility won’t actually remove the meter, but will disregard the reading. (As an aside, if someone else moves into the property, they won’t have this option and will have to pay metered usage regardless.)

Q3 - But why are some water bills going up while others are going down?!

That is a story for another much much longer blog post. Prices for each utility are determined by OFWAT every five years based on their assessment of a business plan which each utility submits. The last of these reviews was in 2019 and if you’re interested in diving in there is lots to wade through here.

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