Smart Water Meters: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

As many of you will be aware, Thames Water has started the installation of smart water meters throughout the London Borough of Bexley as part of their compulsory smart metering programme. I am being contacted regularly by constituents who are understandably concerned about the implications of this change.

I have met with, and written to, Thames Water to discuss this matter and, further to these communications, I have been provided with answers to a number of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), which I have reproduced below. I hope that this will clarify the situation for those who are concerned.

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Thames Water using the Freephone number at the bottom of this post.


What are smart meters and how do they work?


Existing meters are manually read every six months which provides a ‘one off’ value of how much has been used. It does not provide any information on water use patterns, which can help indicate a leak. The majority of meters are also tricky to get to, so customers cannot easily read their own meters.


Smart meters use wireless technology so readings are taken remotely. They provide frequent and accurate data 24/7. This means that Thames Water customers can go online to see exactly what they are using – giving them greater control of their water use and their bills. Smart meters remove the need for manual reads and estimated bills.


The same technology will also enable Thames Water to find and fix leaks faster and more efficiently.


Why are Thames Water fitting meters in Bexley first?


The London Borough of Bexley gets its water from boreholes that feed the River Darent and River Cray. The Darent is a treasured chalk stream. Thames Water have taken steps to reduce our abstraction even further by fitting meters as evidence has shown that they reduce demand for water by 12 per cent.


Are smart meters safe?


Several million of the smart meters Thames Water are using have already been installed globally, and comply with UK legislation and EU standards (Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive). These Standards and Directives include health and safety issues related to human exposure to radio frequency and electromagnetic fields.


This is not a trial technology and smart meters are used worldwide. Meters are generally installed in the pavement outside the property. These meters have electromagnetic levels which are very low. Thames Water’s smart meters are low powered using just 25mW power emission. Mobile phones use 80 times more (2,000mW) and Wi-Fi four times higher (100mW).


Are smart meters compulsory?


Under Thames Water’s universal metering programme it is mandatory for a meter to be installed to domestic premises if it is possible. Their policy is to install smart meters.


The legislation enabling a water company to install meters can be found in Section 162 (works in connection with metering) of the Water Industry Act 1991, which grants permission for water companies to meter domestic premises on a compulsory basis in areas which have been determined by the Secretary of State to be of serious water stress (this includes the Thames Water Region).


What happens if I refuse to have a water meter fitted?


Thames Water has legal powers to install meters at customer’s properties, even if they do not want one. If a customer refuses a meter, Thames Water will install in the pavement and follow the normal process. If a meter can only be installed internally and the customer will not give Thames Water access, they will change the customers tariff to the ‘No Access’ charge, which is likely to be considerably higher than their current rateable value charge.


How much is the ‘No Access’ charge going to be?


The 2014/2015 no access charge has been set at £586.89.


When will I receive my smart meter?


In the first phase (from February 2014 to March 2015) Thames Water aim to fit smart meters at all houses in the London Borough of Bexley which do not currently have a water meter. They will also replace existing meters that are over three years old.


They have planned the programme of streets with London Borough of Bexley Highways Department and will write to their customers six to eight weeks before they start work installing meters in their street with more information.


A Thames Water team will also contact you before they are due to fit your meter so that you can ask them any questions.


How long will it take to install?


Installation depends on whether Thames Water needs to replace an existing meter or dig down to install a new meter. Disruption to the customers’ supply will be kept to a minimum and they will need to turn the water off for a few minutes whilst the connection is made.


Do I have to be in when the meter is fitted?


Thames Water will take care of everything. They will aim to fit the meters in the pavement outside of the house where the outside stop valve usually is, which means their customers do not need to be in when they fit them.


However if they can’t fit the meter in the pavement then they will need an appointment with the customer, in which case they will contact them individually.


Do I have to pay for my meter to be fitted?


No, their meters are fitted free of charge.


Can I request a smart meter sooner?


Not at the moment because Thames Water is installing the smart meter network in each area as they go. Although they will install/replace existing meters with smart meters going forward, their customers will not get the benefit of seeing their smart meter water use online unless the progressive metering programme has been in their area and installed a transmitter to enable the meter to be read remotely.


Will having a smart meter save me money?


Smart meters will put Thames Water customers in control of their bills by helping them to monitor their consumption.


Meters are the fairest way to pay: only pay for what is used – just like gas and electricity. Currently customers who use water carefully are subsidising water wasted by others.


People on meters use less: Metered customers tend to use water more carefully – using around 12% less on average.


Thames Water is giving everyone two years before they are moved on to a metered tariff, unless they want to switch early and cash-in on the savings.


How are smart metered bills worked out?


Metered bills are based on how much water Thames Water’s customers use and the wastewater they take away, plus a fixed charge which covers costs including billing, enquiries, and surface water and highway drainage.


Metered Volume charges


The 2014/2015 tariff per unit m3 of water is 132.48 pence, waste water, 74.82 pence, equalling £2.073 combined.


1 m3 water = 1000 litres = 220 gallons.


Fixed charges: water £29.17, waste water £58.12 (not abated), combined = £87.29.


How is this different to my ordinary bills?


The rateable value water services bill is calculated by applying a ‘rate per pound’ to the chargeable value (rateable value) of your home. There is one rate for water services, another for wastewater services. Each of these is expressed as pence in the pound. The rates paid depend on where the customer lives. In addition they pay a yearly ‘fixed charge’. For household properties this is £32.17 for water and £48.12 for wastewater.


If I move into a metered house will I get billed straight away or will I get the two year transition period?


Yes in these circumstances customers will be moved to a metered tariff immediately. The two-year transition will not apply.


Getting in touch


Thames Water customers can get in touch on their Freephone number on 0800 316 0989. Their lines are open between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday and between 8am and 1pm on a Saturday.

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