Compulsory water meters confirmed
BBC | March 1 2006
A water company in Kent has been given the go-ahead to force 65,000 householders to install water meters.
Folkestone and Dover Water applied for "water scarcity status" because of the drought affecting the South East.
Following the ruling, other water firms may now adopt similar measures for their customers.
Announcing the move, Environment Minister Elliot Morley said: "Water is a precious resource which we can no longer simply take for granted."
Sutton and East Surrey Water became the fourth water firm - after Southern Water, South East Water and Mid Kent Water - to introduce a full hosepipe ban for its customers on Wednesday.
But a spokesman from Water UK, the body which represents water companies, said no other firms have plans to apply for compulsory water metering.
He said other companies in the region are simply looking at the decision regarding Folkestone and Dover Water "with interest".
Major house-building programmes are placing additional strain on supplies in the South East, where some reservoirs are only 40% full - at a time of the year when experts say levels should be at 90%.
From October 2005 up to 20 February, south-east England received about 280mm of rainfall - 100mm less than the average for the period.
The Environment Agency announced last week it favoured compulsory metering in southern England.
The move is highly controversial because critics see it as rationing by price.
Labour fiercely opposed compulsory metering in opposition, calling it a "tax on family life".
The environment minister insisted that water meters would not be made compulsory in the UK but said they were needed in areas with a water shortage.
Mr Morley said: "At the moment we believe people should have the option of whether to have a water meter but when you have an issue of water scarcity as they have in Dover and Folkestone, compounded by a very bad drought, you have to take that into account."
The water champion for consumers in England and Wales welcomed the government's decision.
However, the Consumer Council for Water warned that consumers with low incomes needed help to meet any increase.
Currently 40% of customers served by Folkestone and Dover Water are metered but householders have the option to refuse.
Now the water company wants to have 90% of homes using meters by 2015.
The application is the first one of its kind by a water company under legislation in place since 2000.
Last modified March 6, 2006