Maurice Terry, chairman of WaterVoice used a speech at the Adam Smith Institute’s Future of Utilities conference to challenge government and the industry to push metering more positively as part of a successful response to relaxing the growing strain on water resources in the fastest developing parts of the country.

“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it,” Mr Terry said, sounding like a motto from McKinsey’s. “Metering is the fairest method of charging and helps to concentrate customers’ minds on how much they are using for everyday activities.”

He admitted that universal metering would be far too costly, but that there was a strong case for selective metering in areas of high demand.

“The current Rateable Value system, used to calculate most water customers’ bills in England and Wales, is archaic and makes it too easy to take secure water supplies for granted,” he added. “Metering has an important part to play in encouraging water conservation, minimising wastage, addressing leakage and reducing demand for water, especially at peak times.”

From the larger water companies, only Anglian and South West Water have a majority of their customers using a water meter, with 56% and 52% respectively. Anglian has pressure on its water resources from rapid expansion of housing in the area. This not only means more people using the water but less rainwater being able to penetrate the soil and replenish the aquifers.

South West Water has different pressures in trying to maintain cleanliness of beaches and coastal waters from sewage run-off, and as a result has the highest water charges in Britain (see related story).

Overall, in England and Wales, 28% of household customers have a water meter.

WaterVoice said that a move towards universal metering would make most sense in the South and East of England where resources are most stretched.

“There are a number of hurdles to clear before proceeding to universal metering across England and Wales,” Terry said. “For example, within any charging system there will be water customers who cannot afford to pay their bills because of their income level. These people should receive financial help through the social security and tax credits system.”

By David Hopkins

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