Not a drop more, not a drop less
Few consumers like price rises and when it comes to water, they are particularly sensitive. This perhaps goes back to the old days of water rates, when relatively few people actually paid for water directly - paying for this vital commodity is still a fairly new idea for many.
Even for those who fully accept that someone has to pay the bill for the convenience of piped water into their homes, there is a reluctance to pay based on how much they actually use. People like the fixed rate system, where they pay a fixed amount based on the size of their property and many are reluctant to switch to water meters. Yet, with Ofwat’s announcement that water bills will increase by 5.7% in 2012-13, does this resistance to paying for what they actually use make any sense?
No other form of commodity business offers an ‘all you can eat’ approach at the point of supply. Imagine, for example, if a fixed price was charged at a petrol pump, however many litres you put in your tank? Such a business model would clearly not work for petrol retailers, who are at the end of a long and complex supply chain from the oil field to the petrol tank of the car. Why should water be any different? With the need to tackle leakages, something else the water using public complains about, paying for our actual consumption is inevitable if water companies are to make the investments needed.
Interestingly, Richard Branson’s latest entrepreneurial scheme involves a subscription-based scheme for the UK where people would pay several hundred pounds for a water purifying machine and a monthly subscription of up to £12. If people in a country with some of the highest water standards in the world have money to spend on such a subscription, why would they object to higher water bills?
There is an old saying that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Households on the Isle of Wight, which had water meters installed at the end of the 1980s, have managed to reduce their water consumption by 10%. Although water meters are generally unpopular, they at least show users what their overall consumption is and give them a chance to cut down where they are wasting this resource.
It has been estimated that half of UK households would pay more if their water supply was metered while half would pay less. Although at first sight this seems unfair, this surely reflects the true figures for actual water use and, in the end, everyone must pay their fair share. Whether consumers like it or not, the prospect of mandatory water meters for everyone is likely to come to fruition in the very near future. With growing concerns over the availability of water in the UK, it’s the only way we have of ensuring that users get and use the water they need, no more, no less.