Water Bills

Get to grips with how your water bill is calculated and the ways you can reduce your water consumption to help you save on your water bills.

Water bills explained

By Laura Rettie, Personal Finance Journalist.

Laura Rettie

Water bills, we all have to pay them, but do you actually know what you're paying for? Unlike with other utility bills, we're not able to change water suppliers to find a better deal, so knowing how your water bill is calculated and how you can save water could help bring down your water bill.

What does your water bill cover?

Your water bill covers the water and wastewater you use. There are three main wastewater services:

  • Foul sewage - This is the wastewater from inside your property, for example - your bathroom or kitchen
  • Surface water drainage - Where rainwater that falls onto your property is drained into sewers
  • Highway drainage - Where rainwater on roads and pavements is drained into sewers

Each water company sets its own charge for wastewater. Most people use the same company for water and sewerage, so water and wastewater are included in one bill.

If you have a cesspool or septic tank and don’t use the public sewer system, you should make sure your water company are aware of this, because you don’t need to pay the water company for sewerage.

How is your water bill calculated?

How your water bill is calculated will depend on whether or not you have a water meter.

If you have a water meter

Your bill will typically be made up of a standing charge, which is a fixed annual fee, and a volumetric charge, which varies depending on the amount of water you use.

Water meters should be read at least once a year, but supplying a meter reading more regularly can help you save water and keep your bill down; plus, you’ll avoid any shocks from unexpected large bills.

Some water companies may read your meter more regularly, or be able to read your meter remotely, so your estimates will be more accurate. If the water company hasn’t read your meter and you haven’t provided a meter reading, your bill will be based on an estimated meter reading.

Your water company will include charges for wastewater services in your bill, and foul sewage will usually be calculated based on how much water you’ve used.

If you don't have a water meter

If you’re an unmetered customer, your water bill will have a standing charge and another charge. This other charge could be:

  • A flat rate charge - some water companies charge a flat rate for water, no matter the size of the property you live in.
  • Assessed volume charge - This will be based on the size of your property and the number of people that live there. This charge is most commonly offered to people who have requested a water meter, but it’s impossible to fit one.
  • The rateable value of your property - This is the most common charge for people without water meters. Before 1990, every property in England and Wales was given a rateable value based on the annual rental value of the property. Some water bills will be charged as a percentage of this rateable value - this percentage can vary between different water companies.

If you use the same company for water and sewerage, your water bill will also contain a fixed charge for wastewater services.

If you’re an unmetered customer, you may be able to save money on your water bill by having a water meter installed. You can request a water meter by contacting your water company; who will install it for free.

In some cases, it may not be possible to have a water meter installed on your property; if this is the case, the water company should offer to move you to an assessed charge, which is based on the type and size of your property.

What does your balance mean on a water bill?

Some people choose to set up a payment plan for their water bills; this is where you pay a set amount each month, which can be a great way to help budget and keep on top of your bills.

If you have a water meter, most water companies will send you a bill either once or twice a year, though this isn’t always the case, so check with your water supplier how often they read your meter and produce a bill.

If you have a payment plan, your monthly statement will show your balance as the total amount you’ve paid as credit. So if you pay £20 a month by direct debit, your balance will go up by £20 every month until your water company deducts the amount you’ve used. Sometimes, you will still be in credit after your bill has been paid.

If you don’t have credit on your account, your balance will show as negative and will indicate the amount of money you owe.

You also don’t have to set up a payment plan and can choose to pay the bill in full. If you choose to do this, make sure you have budgeted for it throughout the year.

If you don’t have a water meter, your bill will be created once a year, and you can choose to pay it in full when you receive it, or pay in instalments using a payment plan.

How do I read my water meter?

Your water meter will either be fitted outside your house under a small metal or plastic cover in your driveway, garden or on a nearby footpath; or, sometimes, your water meter will be inside, usually under your kitchen sink.

Once you’ve located your meter, in most cases, you will see that it has black and red numbers. When you give your water company a meter reading, you only need to provide them with the black numbers.

Some water meters are digital; if you have a digital water meter, you only need to provide the numbers before the decimal point.

If your meter reading or bill seems unusually high, you could have a leak, and you should contact your water company as soon as possible.

What is the average water bill in the UK?

Your water bill can vary depending on how much water you use and where you live. According to Water UK, the average water and wastewater bill is £408 a year, or £34 a month. This is an average across the UK, so depending on how many people live in your home, your water bill may vary significantly from this.

If you’re on a water meter, you can reduce your water bill by using less water. Consider switching from baths to showers, or using a washing-up bowl when doing the dishes.

If you’re worried about not being able to afford your water bill, contact your water supplier, because many water companies may be able to offer support. You can also use Money Helper or Citizen's Advice if you’re struggling with your bills.

What uses the most water in a house?

Typically one person uses around 65 cubic meters of water a year, though this can vary depending on your lifestyle.

Washing machines use around 50 litres of water, and flushing your toilet can use between 7 to 11 litres per flush.

Dishwashers use around 14 litres of water per cycle, and whilst this seems like a lot, it’s estimated that dishwashers use around 50% less water than washing dishes by hand.

On average, baths use the most water by far, around 80 litres per use, a five-minute power shower uses around 75 litres, but a five-minute mixer shower uses around 45 litres of water.

Research from Water UK shows that most Brits have no idea how much water they use daily; being more conscious of how much water we use will not only help to bring down water consumption but also help to save a few pennies.

The information provided does not constitute financial advice, it’s always important to do your own research to ensure a financial product is right for your circumstances. If you’re unsure you should contact an independent financial advisor.

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We're on a mission to improve the finances of the nation by helping you to spend wisely and save money

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Finance.co.uk Team