Don't Get Washed Away by the Torrent of Water Price Rises ; You Can't Change Supplier, but Using a Water Meter Can Save You Money, Advises James Daley

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The average household water bill in England and Wales rose by 7 per cent on Monday, with some families now expected to pay more than [pound]500 a year for water and sewerage services. And while recent price increases by gas and electricity suppliers prompted millions of households to switch to cheaper providers, changing water supplier is not an option.

However, while water is the only utility where there is no competition between suppliers, many families could still save hundreds of pounds a year by asking their supplier to install a water meter. Once you've made the switch, you can start to make even greater savings by cutting water usage.

About 70 per cent of properties in England and Wales are charged a flat fee for their sewerage services and water, regardless of how much they use. Properties are banded by local water companies; if you have a similar home to your neighbour, you'll pay the same bill even if you use far less water. For households with high water usage, the system works in their favour. However, Geoff Slaughter of uSwitch, the price comparison service, says that people who live in large properties but have relatively low water usage should look into getting a meter.

"As a good rule of thumb, customers with more bedrooms than people in a property should stand a good chance of saving money with a water meter," he says. "And the savings can be as much as [pound]125 a year."

A good first step is to put your details into an online water usage calculator. Many water companies have these tools on their websites, or uSwitch operates its own service (at www.uswitch.com/ water).

The calculator should give you an idea of whether you'd be tter off paying for water according to how much you use, rather than on a flat rate. If it looks like that might be the case, ask your water supplier whether it is able to install a meter at your property. Installation is free.

Even better, installing a water meter is not a gamble. If you end up worse off, you can ask to go back to being charged a flat fee as long as you make the request within 12 months of the meter being installed.

While water bills have risen rapidly in recent years - as the water regulator Ofwat has granted companies large price rises to cover the cost of upgrading their infrastructure and water quality - prices will not increase as much in 2008 and 2009. Ofwat has said that water companies may increase their bills by no more than 2.5 per cent above inflation in 2008-9 and by no more than 2 per cent above inflation in the following year. …