Wealthy people benefit most from installing a water meter, suggests new research.
Installation of meters by Southern Water has led to an 18 to 22 per cent reduction in water use, with the percentage reduction proving “very similar” across different income groups, according to the study.
But the findings show that while high income households gain financially by switching to metering, less well off families are, on average, around £10 worse off.
The South East of England has been classed as an area of severe water stress.
To address the problem, Southern Water – the utility firm responsible for supplying water in Hampshire, Sussex and Kent – started a five-year Universal Metering Programme (UMP) in 2010 to install half a million water meters.
In a four-year study, Southampton University researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of the project.
The initiative also included optional water efficiency tips from “Green Doctors” who visited more than 48,000 households and gave out 156,000 water-saving products.
The water efficiency visits led to customers cutting water use by around 30 litres a day, according to the study.
Researcher Dr Carmine Ornaghi, Associate Professor in Economics at the University of Southampton, said metering reduces water consumption because households pay for what they use instead of a paying a fixed amount independently of their actual usage.
But he said metering is only ‘socially viable’ if reducing use exceeds the cost of installing and managing a meter.
Dr Ornaghi said: “Our analysis shows that there is a large proportion of households for whom the cost of metering outweighs the benefits.”
He added: “This calls in to question whether universal metering should be extended to other areas of the country in its current form, as opposed to a selective metering programme where meters are installed only to those types of households that are likely to substantially reduce water usage after switching from an unmetered tariff.”
Recent research by the Government’s financial adviser, Money Advice Service, suggested that families with water meters can pay at least 60 per cent more for their supply than those with unmetered provision despite using less of it.
Ben Gelblum and Stephen Beech