Water is such a basic necessity that it’s easy to forget we pay for it. But we do pay for it, and the amount we pay is about to go up.
The average amount that households in England and Wales pay for water is about to rise by 3.5%. According to Ofwat, that means that an average bill of £388 for the year 2013/14, but some companies are hiking bills by as much as 5.5%. You can see which company is charging what here.
Given that customers can’t switch water companies as they can energy providers, that’s an unavoidable hike for many homes.
And while fuel poverty might grab the headlines, growing numbers of households face a frightening new reality – water poverty. Statistics published by the National Debtline show that in 2003 they received just 597 calls for help with water debts.
By last year that had risen to just under 20,000.
Savings on tap
But even though you can’t move to a cheaper supplier, there are ways to reduce what you pay. For some households, switching to a water meter could help them save quite a bit on their bills as they’d only pay for what they use instead of a flat rate.
Most homes can have a water meter fitted free of charge, just ask your supplier. All new homes are fitted with meters.
Of course, if you’re considering a water meter, you want to be sure you won’t pay more than before! As a general rule if you have more bedrooms than people in your home then a meter will probably save you money.
Some suppliers will help you estimate whether or not you’d save money; for example, South West Water has this handy calculator.
Bear in mind that if you switch to a meter and don’t like it, you can ask to switch back in the first 12 months.
If you’re considering switching to a meter, or you’re already on one then the next step is to cut back the water you waste. That doesn’t mean stopping cleaning your teeth, it just means being a bit smarter about water waste.
And saving water can also reduce your energy bills. The Energy Saving Trust estimates that around 24% of a household’s heating bill comes from heating water – that’s around £150 a year.
Save money with freebies
Many water companies offer free water and energy saving devices that could help you cut your utility bills.
The website savewatersavemoney links to all the water companies’ freebies pages.
For example, United Utilities customers can get a free shower regulator, free shower timer, a free toothbrush timer for kids and a free ‘save-a-flush’ bag for your toilet cistern.
Anglian Water offers a free shower regulator, a free ‘save-a-flush’ bag and a free hippo, although you usually need a pre-1993 toilet for those larger cistern fillers to be worthwhile.
These things are free and save you money – why wouldn’t you snap them up?
Time your shower
If you tend to doze in the shower, you’re wasting water, heating, money and time. By cutting your time in the shower by two minutes the average home could save £20 a year.
I tried timing my household’s showers last year and found that I personally waste a lot of time simply lazing under the water.
But the Environment Agency reports that the average UK family uses 500 litres of water every day, which equates to 1.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.
Even if saving £20 in 12 months doesn’t seem that great, there’s a compelling environmental argument.
Reuse your water (that’s not as bad as it sounds)
This really isn’t as disgusting as it first sounds. Reusing so-called ‘greywater’, i.e. water you’ve already used once, can really help cut the amount you waste.
You can buy greywater recycling units that make the fluid safer, but these can be costly. It’s far better to use old water smartly.
For example, you could leave the plug in the bath when you shower and then use the trapped water to flush the toilet – just scoop up a bucket.
If you do need to run the tap to change the temperature, catch the wasted water and use it on plants or for the dog bowl.
Fit water-saving appliances
Rushing out to buy a load of gadgets is never a good way to save money. However, as you come to replace appliances, taps and showerheads it’s a good idea to consider how efficient they are.
For example, when you next need to replace the washing machine or dishwasher, look for products with the Waterwise Marque and the Energy Saving recommended mark, as these will be the least expensive to run.
When you’re buying new taps and shower heads, consider buying ones with a lower flow rate.
The Energy Saving Trust estimates that if a family of four replaced their inefficient shower head with one designed to be water efficient, they could save around £90 off their water bills and £75 off their gas bills every year.
Change your watery habits
Simply encouraging the household to view water as something you pay for will help you change habits and reduce water waste.
For example, ask the kids not to run the tap for ages to make their squash extra cold, and get them to turn off the tap while they brush their teeth.
You can make changes too, such as only turning the washing machine on when it’s full and using a watering can instead of a hose pipe.
Small changes can add up to big savings. For example, use a sink of water to wash up in twice a day instead of leaving the hot tap running while you scrub. That could save you as much as £30 a year on your water bill – and up to £35 a year in gas.
These small habit changes give everyone a greater awareness of the cost of water, can help you cut back more generally, and reduce your bills.
What do you think? Is it right that more people pay for the water they use than pay a flat rate? Should water companies be hiking prices? Share your thoughts using the comments below.