CCW is regularly contacted by customers who are concerned having received an unexpectedly high water bill for their metered account. We appreciate that this can cause concern. The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide some general advice and guidance should this happen to you.

A high bill can be caused by a variety of reasons. Please consider the reasons below to see if any apply to you and could be the cause of the high bill.

Possible reasons for increases

  • Have more people been staying or moved into the property?
  • Have you replaced or bought a new appliance that uses water, e.g. power shower, garden sprinkler?
  • Is the property unoccupied for periods during the year?
  • Are recent or previous bills based on an estimated reading? Was your last bill underestimated?
  • Have you noticed any issues with your toilet/s? For example: cisterns continuing to fill, water overflowing into the bowl or flush button sticking? You can check this by putting some food colouring in your toilet cistern and seeing if it appears in the bowl without you flushing.
  • Is there any water dripping from your taps, shower heads boiler or radiators?
  • If you have a water tank in the loft, have you noticed if this is leaking through the overflow pipe?
  • Has any building or renovation work been undertaken at the property?
  • Have you used extra water such as watering of plants, jetting slabs, car washing?

If you do not believe that any of the reasons above are a possible reason for the increase then further investigations will be required.

Further investigation

Common reasons for high bills are “catch up” bills, where a low estimate was used on a previous bill, or undetected leaks. To further investigate your high bill, firstly we suggest that you take a meter reading and check for water leaks. We explain below how to do this. However, if you, a family member or a friend are unable to do either of these please contact your water company or retailer and they will advise you if they can send someone out to visit the property to investigate on your behalf.

Was your last bill an estimate?

Your high bill may be because your last bill used an estimated reading that was too low.

Look at your bill to see if your last meter reading was an estimate or an actual read. There will be reading codes marked beside the reading on your bill. Normally (A) indicates an actual read, (E) estimated read, (C) customer read.

If the current bill is based on an actual read and the previous bill was based on an estimated reading, the estimate could have been too low, which results in a “catch up” bill. This makes your current bill seem high, as you’re paying for the water you’ve used in this period as well as some of what you used but weren’t billed for (because of the low estimate) in the last period. To avoid this situation occurring, CCW recommends that, if possible to do so safely, you always take a meter reading when you receive an estimated bill. If your reading is quite different from the company’s estimate, then contact your water company or retailer to provide your own reading. They will then send you a revised bill. As your company builds up a better picture of your usage from readings, any estimates they do use should become more accurate.

Taking a meter reading: how to find and read your water meter

Your water meter could be located inside or outside your property. If your water meter is inside your home, it may be fitted on the water pipe as it enters your property. This is usually near the internal stop tap, which is often under the kitchen sink or in the downstairs toilet.

If your water meter is located outside, it is likely to be under a small metal or plastic cover in your driveway, garden or nearby footpath. This will be where your outside stop tap is.

If your meter is located outside, you will need to lift the cover to access it. Underneath the cover, there may be a foam or polystyrene disc. This protects your meter from frost, so make sure you replace it when finished.

To read your meter, you only need to make note of the black numbers. Ignore the numbers in red. Some people like to take a picture of the water meter to keep as evidence of the reading. You will then have a record of this should there be any future issues.

The black numbers on the meter show the amount of cubic metres of water you have used. The red numbers record tenths and hundredths of a cubic metre. You are charged for every cubic metre, so you only need to record the black numbers.

Sometimes outdoor meters can be difficult to access. For example, it may be located in the road, or the cover may be heavy. If this is the case for your meter, please do not attempt to access it. Instead, contact your water company or retailer and ask them to come and take a reading.

Check for Leaks

How to do a leak test:

  1. Shut off all taps and importantly, ensure there are no appliances using water such as a washing machine or dishwasher. Leave your internal stop tap open;
  2. Take a meter reading, making sure to read all the digits and dials (black and red);
  3. Leave a reasonable amount of time before taking the second reading. It is useful to take a reading before you go to bed, and take the second reading the following morning if you are not using water overnight, or perhaps before and after you leave the house for work during the day;
  4. Take your second reading.
    If the second reading is higher than the first, and you are sure you have not used any water, please continue with the next steps.
  5. Shut off all taps, this time including your internal stop tap. Ensure there are no appliances using water. Check the water is off by turning the kitchen tap on, until the flow of water stops. If the water continues to flow then you have not fully shut off your internal stop tap or it is faulty and needs replacing.
  6. Take a meter reading. Read all the digits and dials (black and red);
  7. Leave a reasonable amount of time before taking another reading;
  8. Take a second reading before reopening the internal stop tap.
    If the reading is higher, this indicates there is a leak on the external pipework. Contact your Water Company or Retailer so they can investigate this further to confirm if the leak is located on your private supply pipe or on their pipework.

Leak Allowances

There are instances where you may be entitled to a leak allowance. Generally, if the high bill is because of a leak on the pipework that you are responsible for then you should check the leakage policy for your water company or retailer.

You are more likely to be entitled to a leak allowance for a domestic property.

It is important to note that some company policies only offer a ‘once only’ allowance and most policies will not give allowances for leaks from internal fittings such as overflows or toilet cisterns. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of any changes in your usage and to arrange for leaks on fittings to be repaired by a plumber as soon as you become aware of them, to avoid paying for leaked water.

Protection for leakage incidents

If you are a property owner then you are responsible for the supply pipe supplying water to your property and so are responsible for any repair to it. In some instances, you may share the supply pipe with your neighbours. If this is the case, then you will be partially responsible for the repair. As this pipe is your sole or partial responsibility, if your water meter is external, you will also be responsible for any excess usage recorded on your water meter as a result of water leaked from this pipe.

There are insurance policies available that provide protection against the cost of leaked water and repairs or replacement of supply pipes. You can decide to take out a policy that suits your needs and gives you peace of mind to avoid expensive repair and replacement costs. In addition, some home insurance policies cover for loss of metered water. It is always worth checking if this is included within your policy conditions.

CCW is unable to provide any recommendations or endorsements for insurance policy providers. Before deciding if an insurance product is right for you, you should check the protections that your current home insurance policy offers, what assistance your company will offer and considerations such as the age and location of your pipework.

Less common reasons for a high bill

Wrong meter

On rare occasions, companies can have the wrong meter registered as yours. Your water meter will have a serial number on it. Check that the meter serial number on your bill matches the serial number on your water meter to make sure you are being billed on the right meter.

Crossed supply

Crossed supply is where you are billed for your neighbour’s usage. It can occur when you share a supply pipe with your neighbour, which is down to how the pipework was laid by the original builders. This can be investigated and resolved. CCW recommends that you contact your water company or retailer to investigate this further. It will need to do a supply check. This will normally involve an appointment where access to your property is required. This may also need co-operation from the neighbouring property, as the company may need your neighbour to run their water to see if this registers on your meter.

Faulty meter

Sometimes water meters develop faults as they get old, meaning they do not record the correct volume of water going through them. This is quite uncommon, and where faults do develop they tend to be that the meter under-records rather than over-records (so would result in a falsely low bill, rather than a high one). It is possible to have your water meter tested for accuracy, but if no fault is found you will be charged for this (normally around £70). In our experience it is highly unusual for a meter fault to be the cause of a high bill.

Your normal usage and water saving

Understand your normal water usage

You can keep an eye on your water use by taking regular meter readings.

By taking regular readings and keeping a note of these, you can work out your average daily usage by dividing the amount of usage by the number of days that has passed between the two meter readings taken.

Example: working out your average daily consumption:

Reading 1 – 1st April – 300m3

Reading 2 – 30th June – 355m3

Consumption between two periods = 55m3

Number of days between 1st April – 30th June = 91 days

Average daily usage: (55 divided by 91) =   0.60m3 per day.

Taking regular readings can help you:

  • Spot those periods when your water use goes up. This often happens during the summer months.
  • Get an early warning for any potential problems or spikes in usage. This can be an early indicator for a leak.
  • You can get an idea of what your metered water consumption should be like by using a water meter calculator – https://www.ccwater.org.uk/watermetercalculator.

Water Saving Devices

Each of us on average uses about 150 litres of water per day, but the good news is that there is no shortage of things we can all do to reduce our water use. Often the smallest changes can make the biggest difference.

You can find lots of water saving advice, including how your water usage compares to the average household on our using water wisely page – https://www.ccwater.org.uk/households/using-water-wisely. There is further information on what changes you can make to save water on the Waterwise website: https://waterwise.org.uk/

In addition, most water companies provide some water saving devices free of charge to customers. We list help your company can offer on our website, https://www.ccwater.org.uk/households/using-water-wisely/freewatersavingstuff. Please contact your Water Company or Retailer to find out more about how they can help you to save water.