Water Meters in the UK: Your Essential Guide

How does a water meter work? What does it look like, where is it located, and how does having one impact your bills? Find out all you need to know about water meters (including smart water meters) in the UK so that you can decide if having one installed is worth it.


How do water meters work in the UK?

In the UK, water suppliers use two common billing methods: metered and unmetered. Generally speaking, only homes with a metered water rate have or require a water meter installation (there are a few exceptions which we will cover later on).

Therefore, unlike your electricity and gas, not every household is equipped with a water meter.

How can I tell if I have a water meter?

One quick and easy way to determine if you have a water meter for your home is by looking at your water bill.

Suppliers, such as South Staff Waters, often use a coding system at the beginning of your account number distinguishing between the two billing methods:

  • MC at the start of your customer number, then you likely have a water meter (Metered Customer)
  • UC at the start of your customer number, then you likely do not have a water meter (Unmetered Customer)

Haven’t received a water bill yet? As a general guideline, properties built after 1990 are likely to have a water meter installed.

Where is my water meter?

Your water meter can either be installed outdoors or indoors. When the supply pipe is shared with other properties (like in flats or terraced buildings), your water meter will usually be indoors.

When a supply pipe is not shared (like detached or semi-detached homes), the preference is for the water meter to be outdoors.

We look at the common places water meters can be found in each situation below.

Outdoor water meter installation

The preferred location for an outdoor water meter is often close to the stop valve. These are frequently found on your property, close to the footpath. Look for a small metal or plastic cover in the ground. You may need a tool like a screwdriver to lift the cover. Once opened, you should see another plastic-type top, this is there to protect your meter from frost. Lift this and you will see your water meter.

Outdoor water meter location next to footpath

Indoor water meter installation

If you don’t see a metal or plastic cover outdoors, chances are your water meter has been installed indoors. In these cases, most water suppliers will attempt to install the water meter where the water supply first enters your home. This is often in either your garage or under your kitchen sink. Again look for the stop valve inside your home, your water meter is likely next to it.

In most large buildings, your water meter will be in a utility room much like the one depicted below. To determine which water meter belongs to your home, you will have to verify the serial number.

Water meters in a utility room

Did you know? Stop valves are what control the main water supply to your home. They are there to be turned off in case of emergency.

Can I move my water meter?

If you don’t like where your water meter has been installed, you may request to move it. However, you will likely have to pay to have it moved.

Most water suppliers will install a water meter at no extra cost The caveat, though, is that they will choose its location for you.

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What does a water meter look like?

This will first depend on the type of water meter you have for your home. Smart water meters were introduced in the UK in January of 2016, so most homes will still have a traditional water meter. Nonetheless, we look at some characteristics of both types of water meters found in the UK so you can easily identify yours.

Standard water meter characteristics

Most water meters in the UK are round, about the size of a tinned food can, and connected to the water piping. Inside the round surface, you will find either five or four black digits and two red digits, often accompanied by a small dial as well. The serial number consists of a total of nine digits and is often found on the outer rim of your water meter.

Water meter

Smart water meter characteristics

Like standard water meters, most smart water meters are also round, slightly larger than a tinned food can, and connected to the water piping. There is a digital screen that shows multiple numbers and as many as three decimal points after a coma. The serial number of a smart water meter is located above the bar code, which is found in the inner portion of the meter.

Smart water meter

How to read a water meter

Now that you’ve found your water meter and determined where it is standard or smart, let’s have a look at how to read your water meter.

Since there are two types of water meters, we look at how to read a water meter for each type.

How to read a standard water meter

Your water meter should display either five or four black digits followed by two red ones. Simply read the black numbers from left to right and ignore any red numbers at the end. Red numbers are decimal points to your usage.

How to read a smart water meter

In essence, you shouldn't have to read a smart water meter. The entire reason to have one installed is for the supplier to be able to obtain the water meter readings automatically.

Even so, you may want to look at your smart water meter reading to ensure you are being billed accurately. Technology is great, but it’s never 100% fail proof.

Much like a standard water meter, simply read the digital numbers from left to right until the comma. There will be two or three digits appearing after the comma. You can ignore any digits after the comma. These are decimal consumption of your water usage.

Fact Since suppliers only charge you for every 1 cubic meter of water used, the decimals are not counted in a water meter reading. This is for both standard and smart water meters.

How to submit a water meter reading

Once you have your water meter reading, you can submit them to your water supplier via your online account, by phone, or even by post.

You shouldn’t have to submit a meter reading if you have a smart water meter. The supplier is supposed to receive the information directly and automatically from the meter.

Regardless of your type of water meter, we recommend you verify your meter reading with the water bill you receive. This ensures that you are not inadvertently being overcharged for your water usage.

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Why should you provide a water meter reading?

Much like submitting an electricity meter reading, there are many advantages to regularly providing a water meter reading:

  • Ensures you are being charged the right amount for your water usage
  • Avoids consuming more water than you can afford, stay within your budget
  • Helps detect potential water leaks sooner. Protecting your home against water damage and water loss.
  • Shows your water consumption habits and can help you curb certain behaviors to save on your water usage.
  • Avoids disputes with your water supplier

Smart water meter or not, always verify the meter reading indicated on your bills before you pay them. In a court of law, paying for a bill is often interpreted as an acceptance of the bill's accuracy. Trying to dispute a water bill after you have paid makes it that much more difficult in the UK. But, in 98% of cases, you should not have to worry about ever getting to this point.

When should you provide a water meter reading?

Unless you have a smart water meter installed, most water suppliers will only take a water meter reading every six months to a year.

Regardless of what your water supplier may request, we would recommend submitting a water meter reading every 3 months at minimum.

Submitting your reading monthly is ideal as you will be able to curb any sudden high usage quickly as well as spot any potential water leaks sooner.

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Can I come off a water meter?

If you decided to have a water meter installed, your bills have been coming in and you realize this was not the best option for you, you may wish to have it uninstalled. So, can you come off a water meter? This depends on the following criteria:

  • Yes! If your water meter has been installed within the last year and you have changed your mind. Some providers like Severn Trent Water will even give you as much as a 24 month grace period to change back.

  • No! If you move into a new property and a water meter is installed. And, also no, if you requested the change and your grace period of 12 or 24 months have passed.

Despite these grace periods, it is recommended that you first calculate if you will obtain savings or not by having a water meter installed.

Is it cheaper to have a water meter installed?

On average, people who have a water meter installed use 31.7% less water* than people who are on an unmetered water rate.

This staggering number is great for water preservation and your water supplier. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will save 31% on your water bill by having a water meter installed.

In many instances, unmetered water rates can still be preferable to having a water meter installed and provide you with more savings on your water bill. This is especially true for large families, undervalued homes, and large consumption homes.

The only way to determine ahead of time if it is cheaper to have a water meter installed or not is by doing the math. Using a water meter calculator can help you answer this question.

*Source: The Voice for Water Consumers

Water meter calculators

If you are wondering whether you should install a water meter or not, you may want to calculate if it will bring you savings or not first.

The CCV, Voice for water consumers, is a great water meter calculator* to do such analysis.

Enter the following simple details in the water meter calculator and it will give your new water bill price if you get a water meter installed. The items you need to enter are:

  1. Your water supplier
  2. Your sewerage supplier
  3. How many people inhabit the home
  4. How many baths your home takes per week
  5. How many showers your home takes per week
  6. How many times do you flush the toilet per day
  7. How many washing machine loads do you do per week
  8. How many dishwasher loads do you do per week
  9. How many hours do you use a garden hose in a year

While this is not an exact science, a water meter calculator will quickly give you a good estimate of your water bill under a water meter system.

Quick tip For a more accurate estimate, take note of the water usage for these items for a week rather than entering random ‘guesstimates’. You may be surprised at how many times you actually flush the toilet every day!

How much will I save with a water meter?

Have a look at the following yearly estimated cost with a water meter of a few common water suppliers using the CCV water meter calculator:

Yearly estimated cost with a water meter
Scenario Four-person home* Two-person home**
Thames Water Meter £515.69 £240.35
United Utilities Water Meter £650.12 £295.71
Yorkshire Water Meter £639.67 £277.32
Dr Cymru Welsh Water Meter £672.92 £348.47

*The four-person home scenario includes two baths per week, 24 showers per week, 10 flushes per day, three washing machine loads per week, seven dishwasher uses per week, 50 hours of garden hose use a year, include surface water charges
**The two-person home scenario includes 1 bath per week, 12 showers per week, 4 flushes per day, 2 washing machine loads per week, 4 dishwasher use per week, 0 hours of garden hose use a year, include surface water charges

You can then quickly take your estimated amount from the water meter calculator, compare it with your current water bill and immediately see if having a water meter installation will bring you savings or not.

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What are the disadvantages of having a water meter?

In general, having a water meter installed does seem appealing, but there are some disadvantages to consider as well. Here are just a few:

  • It doesn’t necessarily lower the cost of your water bill.
  • Having to regularly send in water meter readings can be a hassle for some people.
  • Unless you are willing to pay, you do not choose the location of your water meter installation.
  • You will need to monitor your water usage and be more careful of your water consumption to keep your total bill cost reasonable.

Water meter installation details

After completing all of the above steps (such as measuring your home’s usage and estimating your future cost), you may now have decided to go ahead and request a water meter installation.

Here are the simple steps you will need to follow to have your water meter installed:

  1. Fill out an application form with your water supplier requesting the water meter installation. Many suppliers have this form directly online.
  2. Your supplier will send an engineer to survey the property. Most suppliers will try to install the water meter outdoors. If they cannot and need to install the meter indoors, they may try to install it immediately during the survey process.
  3. If your supplier can install the water meter outdoors, they will usually need to come back after the survey to do the installation. This is because a permit is often required from public works for them to carry out the installation outdoors.
  4. Once it is fitted, your water supplier will advise you of the completion of the water meter installation and your account will be updated accordingly.
  5. The entire process can take up to three months, so don't expect this to be an instantaneous change.

The nice thing with a water meter installation is that, in most cases, since the installation is outdoors, you do not need to take a day off work to be at home that day.

It is important to note that your water supply will be turned off during the water meter installation. This usually ranges between 20-30 minutes depending on the complexity of your water meter location.

Water meter installation cost

For England and Wales, the water meter installation is free of cost. You only need to pay for a water meter installation if you ask for the water meter to be installed at a different location than what the water supplier survey suggests.

If you live in Scotland, a water meter installation will cost you £300. This is because Scotland has a different water regulator from the rest of the UK.

Scots definitely understands the importance of using a good water meter calculator before requesting a water meter installation!

Smart water meters in the UK

Smart water meters (sometimes referred to as water smart meters) function similarly to electricity and gas smart meters.

Smart water meters are intended to show you your water consumption up to an hourly breakdown so that you can monitor your consumption.

It is said that smart water meters can reduce an entire town’s consumption by an average of 8%*, which certainly helps to save the environment.

*Source: Anglian Water

Can you get a smart meter for water?

Some water suppliers are making smart water meters compulsory, so in those regions, mainly the South East of England, you can expect your water supplier to contact you for your smart water meter installation.

In most other regions of the UK, however, standard water meters are continuing to be installed. This includes Scotland, where you have to pay to have a water meter installed.

The cost of these smart water meters continues to be too high for the benefits they will bring in the Northern regions.

Are smart water meters compulsory?

Since each region has its water supplied by a different company, whether a smart water meter is compulsory or not in the UK currently depends on where you live.

Megaphone

The stress, or high water demand, in some counties is forcing some suppliers to make smart water meters compulsory. This is in the hopes to decrease water consumption and, therefore, lower the stress and increasing water demand in some regions.

Thames Water and Anglian Water are making smart water meters compulsory. It is expected that these will help locate water leaks quicker, thus decreasing the loss of water.

Southern Water has made water meter installation compulsory for a few years already. It is unclear, however, if these water meters are smart water meters or standard water meters.

Most other water suppliers in the UK continue to leave the choice to their consumers on whether or not to have a water meter installed. As previously mentioned, most appear to be installing standard water meters and not smart water meters.

Smart water meters for business

Having a smart water meter installed is a completely separate issue if you run a business. First of all, contrary to residential water meters, businesses can choose a water supplier.

This makes not only having a water meter installation important, but also choosing your water supplier important.

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Is a smart water meter a good idea?

Whether it is for a business or your home, opting for a smart water meter definitely has its benefits. We look at the pros and cons below:

Pros and cons of a smart water meter
Pros Cons
Monitor water consumption as precisely as hourly usage. Can be a hassle to repair if defective.
Automatic transmission of your water meter readings to your water supplier. Consume a little bit of energy and therefore raise that cost versus a standard water meter.
Helps you notice water leaks sooner. In some cases, having a metered water rate instead of an unmetered rate can be costlier.

Still have some questions regarding water meters? Have a look at our average water bill guide.

Unsure who your water supplier is? Browse who supplies my water page.

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