New research delves beneath the surface of universal water metering

Metering has the potential to encourage households to use water more wisely if they see financial benefits and receive the right level of care and support from their water company.

That’s according to jointly commissioned research by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) and Southern Water into customers’ experiences of the company’s Universal Metering Programme and how metering subsequently affects people’s water saving attitudes and behaviours.

Southern Water was the first company to roll out a large-scale compulsory metering programme, which ran from 2010 to 2015. More than 400,000 water meters were fitted across its water supply area, covering parts of Hampshire, Kent and Sussex, as part of wider efforts to tackle growing pressure on water resources in the South East of England.

The research – which was carried out during the summer of 2016 – examined how customers responded to compulsory water metering, from the moment they found out about metering through to their first metered bill and beyond.

The research found:

  • Most respondents had a good experience of Southern Water’s metering programme – with clear and effective communication and efficient installation
  • The overriding concern of most customers was about the financial impact and the predictability of their water bill after metering
  • Those who saw bill increases were less happy but there was evidence those experiencing genuine financial issues were well supported
  • Customers’ water saving habits were largely driven by their desire to reduce their bills
  • For some households where the anticipated financial benefits of water saving habits didn’t materialise, these activities tailed-off
  • More needs to be done to maintain focus on water efficient behaviour over time and offer customers more innovative approaches to reducing water use

A sensitive approach

Tony Smith, Chief Executive of CCWater, said: “Metering can get households thinking more about how they use water, especially when it results in lower bills. But this research shows that it’s also vital customers receive the right level of support and their concerns are handled very sensitively by water companies.

“We look forward to using the invaluable insights from this research to help inform the development of future compulsory metering programmes.”

A fundamental change

The research clearly demonstrates that for future metering programmes early communication, direct contact on the doorstep or over the phone and responsiveness to individual needs help create a more positive customer experience.

Southern Water CEO Matthew Wright said: “Metering in general, and compulsory metering in particular, poses the challenge of balancing fairness and affordability of charges and the long-term need for reliable and sustainable water supplies. Metering is a fundamental change in consumers’ relationship with water, as they move from flat rate charges to paying for the volume of water they use.

“As the first company to roll out a large-scale metering programme we were extremely conscious that we put our customers at the heart and it is great to see that customers on the whole had a good experience. I hope that the companies who are following suit learn lessons from our experience.”

Southern Water said it will use this research to inform its ongoing communication with metered customers and any future metering activity, as well as provide advice and guidance to other water companies embarking on metering programmes.

CCWater pledged to continue its work with water companies to ensure metering is rolled out in a fair and consumer friendly way. The organisation said it will continue to facilitate the sharing of experience and good practice and ensure consumers’ views are well represented as metering policies and programmes are developed by other water companies.

Link to report: Beneath the Surface: Customers’ Experiences of Universal Metering (pdf)

For more information please contact CCWater’s media team on 0121 345 1005 or Southern Water’s media team on 01903 272230 or