Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Increase in water meters use urged by review

Water meter
The Environment Agency says meters would be practical in 90% of homes

A huge increase in the use of water meters to encourage people to use water more efficiently has been called for by an independent review.

It recommended an approach that would put meters in 80% of homes in England by 2020, compared with 35% currently.

The review for England and Wales found that charging based on a property's rateable value was outdated.

Ageing infrastructure, population growth and climate change are putting pressure on water supplies.

System 'out of date'

Water bills for about two-thirds of households are calculated using the rateable value (RV) of their home.

Every individual in England and Wales uses a ton of of water per week
40% of domestic energy bills go on heating water for washing dishes and clothes, bathing and showering
Water companies are obliged to provide free meters to customers on request
Homes with meters used on average 10-15% less water than those without
By 2050, river flow in late summer and early autumn could be reduced by up to 80%
Source: Environment Agency

"The RV system is out of date and does not target efficiently those who need help nor does it provide customers with an incentive to save water," said the report for the Department of the Environment and Welsh Assembly.

A future charging system based on volume use was the "approach most likely to encourage customers to use water efficiently and will best support the development of a sustainable water supply".

The report did not recommend universal, compulsory metering, but said "area wide" schemes could bring metering to 80% of England by 2020.

It also recommended help for low-income families who required it following a switch to metering.

Environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies said the department would "consider [the] recommendations carefully ahead of a full public consultation".

Fairer charging

The Environment Agency wants "near universal" water metering in England and Wales to help protect supplies, claiming that metered households use 10-15% less water.

Calculate how much water you use

In response to the report published on Tuesday, an agency spokesman said: "Widespread water metering implemented by water companies, including safeguards to protect vulnerable groups, would provide a fairer charging system and is vital to help reduce water consumption and avert future severe shortages."

The UK was "one of the few developed countries that have low levels of metering", he said.

"Water resources are already under pressure in many parts of England, with some 25 million people living in areas where there is less water available water per person than Spain or Morocco."

Winners and losers

Consumer groups have warned that the impact of water metering could vary from consumer to consumer.

Winners are likely to be those using less water in relatively expensive properties.

Water is a basic civilised need and should not be rationed on price
Stephen, Gateshead

But the Campaign for Water Justice said the poorest and most lowly-paid households could end up facing higher bills.

"To meter everybody regardless of their circumstances or how many children they have is absolutely a recipe for disaster," said Neil Fishpool, from the campaign group.

The Consumer Council for Water said implementing new meters required a cautious approach.

"With more meters come risks, and we support the recommendation for a step by step approach, switching more customers over to meters only where it makes sense to do so - looking at the costs and benefits for different areas," a spokesman said.

The review was led by Anna Walker, chair of the Office of Rail Regulation, who is experienced in regulatory, environmental and social issues.

The report also called for more action over non-payment of water charges, suggesting bad debts typically added about £12 to annual bills.

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