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Tenants and water meters – what is the law?

taps waterSamir Jeraj considers water meters and tenants’ rights

Water meters – checking out the rules

Many green-minded and money-conscious tenants look to water meters to help them cut back the costs and their environmental impact.

However, there is often confusion between landlords, tenants, and agents as to what the rules are.

I recently heard about a case where a tenant wanted a water meter, approached the agent, but was told the landlord would probably say no. So, I decided to check out the rules on this.

Warnings from the CAB

The advice from the CAB is that if you’ve got a contract longer than 6 months then you should be able to do this.

It’s the same as if someone wanted to change electricity supplier or phone supplier. The contract is between the water provider and the consumer, not the landlord.

The problem for a tenant would be that they could get into a long dispute with the landlord and end up with a retaliatory eviction.

If you’re a tenant and worried about this, then you could always try phoning up and try to negotiate a lower tariff with the company if you have been unable to get a water meter.

Water meters and landlords – a typical scenario

A quick scan of the internet shows Water Metering is actually quite a common question.

The scenario tends to be that a landlord is thinking of moving back into the house at some point and thinks a water meter will mean higher water bills for themselves.

Part of the issue is that once a water meter has been in place for 12 months then it cannot be removed.

Water meters – forbidden fruit?

I read a post on a Landlords forum where a landlord said they had forbidden installing a water meter in the contract.

I have a massive problem with this type of clause as presumably it means tenants could also be forbidden from switching away from the awful and costly pre-payment meters for electricity and gas (it could be an unfair contract term – Ed).

I was on these (and a fixed water bill) for a few months in an old house and it was a costly nightmare. We also had to deal with moving in when the gas had been overspent for a while – something we didn’t realise until we moved in.

What the act says

A little more research on this turned up the law which allows tenants to install a water meter.

The Water Industry Act 1999 s11 says tenancy agreements cannot be used to stop tenants who pay their own water bills from choosing a meter.

A financial solution?

Landlords and agents might also want to bear in mind that a tenant with lower bills is someone who is less likely to get into financial trouble and struggle to pay the rent.

One person asking for advice on the Mumsnet site said she was struggling to pay the £11 a week water bill and her housing benefit already falls short of paying the rent.

Money Saving Expert says that, depending on the details and circumstances, a person could save around £200 a year by having a water meter. OFWAT estimates a conservative average saving of £74 a year. And the Consumer Council for Water has a handy calculator to help figure out what the likely savings would be.

Some messy situations

Another set of problems came to mind such as what happens in HMOs, places where the house has been leased to someone who is sub-letting, or where the lettings agent has an agreement with an energy company (water is a monopoly).

What if tenants just pay a flat all-inclusive rent? Another quick scan shows this looks very messy! I’m going to go away and do some more research on this and get back to you later.

But in the meantime – whats your view?

(See also the comments area below and >> click here to read our terms of use and comments policy)

Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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10 Responses to Tenants and water meters – what is the law?

  1. Very small minded if a landlord tries to prevent a tenant installing a water meter. I always work on the basis that my tenants can have anything they want that doesn’t cost me money – if it makes them happy then great, happy tenants make good tenants.
    Also likely to be a plus point when re-letting in the future.

  2. Water Companies are very keen to move tenants onto water meters because the charges often work out in their favour. Years ago it was the norm for Landlords to pay Water Rates, not the tenant. This was because if the tenant didn’t pay, the landlord was responsible, so by including it in the rent they could ensure that they didn’t get landed with someone else’s debt.

    This has left a little quirk which is useful for HMO Landlords that if the landlord is paying the Rates the waterboard cannot change to water metering without the tenant’s permission.

  3. The issue is that unlike a gas or electric meter, once a water meter has been installed the water company will never remove it. A lot of people still believe metered water costs more, and it does for a large family with lots of children’s baths and the washing machine going all day in a property with a low rentable value.

    So if a tenant without children gets a water meter installed, it may be a lot harder for the landlord to rent the property to someone that does not like water meters.

    With a prepayment electric/gas meter the landlord can require the tenant to get a normal meter installed before they live or charge the ex tenant the cost of doing so, but is no way a landlord can ever get a water meter removed.

    If the politicians really cared about the environment, water meters would have been compulsory a long time ago and we would not have this issue.

  4. Water Usage in a country with our rainfall isn’t an Environmental issue (in spite of what the Water Companies want you to believe) or even a cost issue – it’s a Capital Cost issue. If we can be coerced to use less water there is no need to replace the leaky infrastructure which has a massive benefit to the water company profits.

    How much leaks? Severn Trent loses 27%.

    The water industry in England and Wales loses 3.36 billion litres of water a day in leaks. If all the pipes could be fixed it would save enough water to supply 22.4 million people every day.

  5. Thanks for the link to the BBC article Nick, thats very interesting. I suppose its just too expensive for all the pipes to be replace other than gradually. Although I take your point about profits.

  6. I think if the way water companies were paid was changed to give them an incentive to fix leaks we would see a rapid change in attitude. Metering allows them to increase charges/ltr phenomenally. The old rating system wasn’t archaic at all, it provided an incentive to be efficient that no longer exists for metered supplies.

  7. My tenant changed to a water meter without approaching me.

    They then suffered a leak (which without the meter would have cost nothing) but have a severely increased water bill for this period. Now as the water is part of my repairing responsibilities, am I liable for the increased water bill?

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone. I’ve been asked by a reader to point out there are two types of water meters, the normal type (which are what I’ve written about), and water pre-payment meters – which are still used in some places.

    “There are pre payment meters that try and prevent further build up of arrears, where a top up type card is used. Kind of like a pay as you use system. Then there are meters fitted at the stop tap which simply record the quantity of water used for periodic billing eg six monthly. This is an alternative to using the old Rates values for setting an annual charge which is then often paid in installments throughout the year.”

  9. There are plenty of arguments for an against smart water meters. I, for one, am all for them if they can save me money and reduce the carbon footprint. Who’s feet does the responsibility land on though to have this implemented? the tenant or the landlord?



About the post author:

Samir Jeraj

Samir Jeraj is a journalist with a focus on issues in private rented housing. He was a Green Party councillor in Norwich from 2008-2012. Find out more about Samir on his website and connect with him on Google+

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