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Understanding water rates and meters

Unlike gas and electricity companies, you can only be supplied by your regional water company. You can’t switch to another water supplier.

How are water rates calculated?

Unless you have a water meter, your water bills will be based on your home's rateable value. The amount of water you actually use, or the number of people that live in your property, is irrelevant. Rateable values were decided by local authorities between 1973 and 1990. It is an assessment of the annual rental value of a property and takes into account the size and general condition of the property and the availability of local services.

To set your water bill, your water company then multiplies the rateable value of your property by the relevant charges for water and sewerage services. These charges are then checked approved by the regulator, Ofwat.

As the rateable value is not based on how many people live there, you won’t pay less if you live alone. You can’t apply to change the rateable value of your home, the rates were last calculated in 1990 and they are no longer being assessed.

All properties built since 1990 have a water meter installed. If you have a water meter you'll be charged for the water you use.

Should I get a water meter?

If you live alone and use very little water, or your property has a high rateable value (which affects how much you pay for water), then you could consider switching to a water meter as you will only be charged for the water you use.

Households in England and Wales can ask for a water meter to be fitted free of charge. The water company can refuse if it thinks that installing one isn’t practical or is too expensive. You can switch back to unmetered billing within 12 months if you find that having a meter makes your bills higher.

You can’t have a water meter removed if you move into a property where there already is one. Generally the water company can’t insist that you have a meter fitted, but there are exceptions to that, such as if you live in an area with a low water supply.

If you want to find out if you could cut your bill by using a water meter, use the calculator on the Consumer Council for Water’s website.

Further information


Our Information guides are short and easy to digest, giving a comprehensive overview of the relevant topic. Factsheets are longer with more detail, and are aimed at professionals.

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For more information: Call Age UK Advice: 0800 678 1174

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