As you survey your rapidly shrivelling garden and ponder the threat of a hosepipe ban, the last thing you want to hear is that your water bill is going up again.
If you haven't received a letter about it yet, it is only a matter of time. The average water bill is rising by 5.7pc in April, while some unlucky customers will find their bills rise by 8pc – double the current inflation rate – from next month. The rise in bills depends on where you live, and recent government figures show that some regions have seen the amount they pay on water rise far more quickly than others.
Customers in the South West pay the highest average bill – for water only – at £323 a year, while those in Portsmouth pay just £103. On top of this, most households must pay to have their sewage taken away, which further bumps up the cost.
Every water company has raised its bills by more than inflation in the past decade, even though this is a regulated industry and price rises have to be agreed with Ofwat, the regulator.
Unfortunately, unlike with electricity and gas, you cannot switch your water company. Instead, you are forced to put up with whoever supplies the area in which you live. South West Water says that its own bills have risen partly because customers are spread across a "very wide area". The result is higher-than-average infrastructure costs and a lower-than-average number of customers to share the costs. For example, pumping drinking water over hills to isolated communities is more expensive than supplying a large town," says a spokesman. Other companies, such as Thames Water, which supplies London, blame the rising bills on the amount of work needed to keep ancient pipes from leaking. The price comparison site uSwitch has described rising water bills as a "relentless drain on our finances".
"This price increase will add to the pressure that consumers are under and will erode the breathing space afforded by the recent small fall in energy bills," says Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy. However, she added that there is one thing that some customers can do to save money on water, and that is to switch to a water meter. It is important that you do not do this as a kneejerk reaction when you get your water bill. Since a meter will charge you for your consumption, rather than you paying a flat rate for all the water you use, it is not suitable for everyone.
Water companies estimate that about half of households would pay less on meters.
The rule of thumb is that if you have more bedrooms than there are people living in your home, you will probably benefit from a water meter. This is because your previously unmetered bill will have been calculated on how big your home is, rather than how much water you use. So if your house is "underoccupied" and you are not metered, you are likely to use less water than you are being billed for.
According to uSwitch, getting a water meter installed could save you £54 a year, as long as you fall into the right category of user. The company has a calculator on its website which asks detailed questions about, for example, how much washing you do and whether you have a power shower.