Thought leadership

Millions of householders in England and Wales could be forced to have water meters installed if a group of MPs gets its way. Members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) say that all water companies should be allowed to introduce compulsory metering.

They say that the idea is to help save water. But the MPs concede that in some cases putting in a meter might lead to “significant” increases in bills.

At the moment about half of homes in England have meters but in most areas installation is still voluntary.

Water companies only have the power to force households to install meters in parts of the country subject to water shortages, such as the South East.

“We call on the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to allow all water companies the power to implement compulsory metering,” said MP Neil Parish, chair of the committee.

“Where this might lead to significant bill increases, metering should be accompanied by strengthened support for vulnerable customers.”

The idea of compulsory metering is controversial, even within the industry itself. Mel Karam, chief executive of Bristol Water, told MPs that it could have a negative impact on people and may backfire.

The Consumer Council for Water said that ideally customers should have a choice. However, it supported the compulsory installation of meters if it was handled sensitively and introduced over a long period of time.

Tony Smith, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Some customers may see a large rise in their bill, and it’s critical support is put in place to financially assist those at risk of being worse off, particularly larger families and those on a low income.”

Water meters help reduce demand and make it easier for companies to detect leaks.

At the moment three billion litres are lost every day, enough to fill over 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. But while leakage has been reduced significantly, the MPs said more needed to be done.

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