Southern Water has announced that it will be moving thousands of homeowners onto meters in Hampshire, Kent and Sussex, in order to meet water targets. Some people will save money as a result of the changes - whereas others will pay far more for their water.
So why is it making the move, and what does it mean for homeowners?
Why?Southern Water made the announcement as part of a report into how it is going to secure water supplies for the foreseeable future. It said that it was seeking to better manage water in the River Itchen, so that if it fell below a certain level, extraction would stop immediately. In order to do this it will construct a pipeline, but that will reduce the water available to customers.
It said: "Southern Water is putting in place a suite of measures to ensure there is enough water available for customers... This includes the roll out of metering across the area to reduce demand for water, ongoing work to tackle leakage on the network and the proposed Testwood scheme [a treatment facility]." Around 75,000 meters will be placed in homes in Sussex in the next 12 months.
How?It has been granted permission to force people onto meters, after the South East was classed as facing 'serious water stress', which gives water companies certain emergency powers - such as the right to introduce meters without having to ask permission.
It means that affected households will have no say on whether the meters are introduced in their homes.
The question of whether other water companies follow this example will depend on whether they are granted the powers, and whether they need an extra help to hit their targets. Given the droughts this year, these sorts of drastic steps look increasingly likely.
What it meansSo what will it mean for you? The idea is that if we pay for every drop of water we use, we are likely to focus on using less in order to cut our costs. It means some people will be able to cut their bills fairly dramatically, and a single person household could easily see the cost of their water halve.
However, there will be winners and losers. Ofwat says: "A water meter is more likely to save you money if you live in a house with a high rateable value, or if you use only a relatively small amount of water. Generally speaking, large families may be worse off with a meter and single occupiers are most likely to benefit."
However, if you introduce water-saving measures - such as a water butt for the garden, only running the washing machine or dishwasher when it's full, and washing dishes and vegetables in a bowl rather than under running water, you could turn a higher bill into a money-saving opportunity.
There are lots of calculators which will show whether you would gain or lose from a meter, including this one from the Consumer Council for Water.