Tom Melhuish 4 min read

An in-depth guide to water meters

Here’s our ultimate guide to water meters in the UK.

We dive deep into old-fashioned water meters and the new smart meter technology that is rapidly being rolled across the UK.

With the looming climate crisis and water scarcity facing the UK, it is crucial to understand all of these changes!


What is a water meter?

A water meter is a device that measures the volume of water passing from the water network into a property that uses mains water. Most business and home properties in the UK have a water meter where the mains pipe enters the property’s boundary.

For businesses:

  • Business water rates are charged per unit cubic meter of water a property uses, as measured by the water meter.
  • Business water suppliers measure how much water is being used by your business at the meter and charge you accordingly.

Water meters are the same as electricity and gas meters used by business energy suppliers, but for water. The dial on the front of a water meter measures the volume of water passed through it since it was installed. 

How does a water meter work?

The internal structure inside a typical “velocity” water meter. (Credit: wikipedia)

The water meters installed at commercial and home properties use a positive displacement chamber to measure the volume of water passing through them. Inside the meter, the water flow physically moves mechanical components in the meter that rotate the dial on the front.

Water meters are calibrated so the front dial accurately measures each cubic meter of water passing through.

💡 More modern water meters have a digital dial on the front but use a similar analogue mechanism behind the scenes.

Where can I find my water meter?

Water meters are typically installed on the boundary of your property, where a water pipe connects your property to the local water infrastructure.

Pipe Diagram

As the water mains often follow the road network, a common place for water meters is under the pavement outside your property. You’ll be looking for a purpose-built water meter box like this:

Find My Water Meter

Larger properties with more than one water meter or larger meters are likely to be installed in a plant room somewhere inside the building.

If you are still having difficulty locating your water meter, it’s worth contacting your business water supplier, who may be able to look up your meter on the central water market database.

The central database (operated by MOSL) records where meters were first installed; however, these details are often imprecise or incomplete.

How do I take a water meter reading?

It’s certainly not rocket science. The dial will display a number (often quite big) that represents the volume of water used by the property since the meter was installed in meters cubed.

Most meters have two red numbers representing figures after the decimal point; these are not recorded in a meter read. This is because the level of precision displayed is unnecessary for billing or reporting.

Here’s how it works:

Water Meter

The meter reading above would be recorded as “00216”.

A water meter reading is submitted on your water supplier’s website, where you will provide the date the water meter reading is taken.

Businesses in the UK are charged for water used using a volumetric rate – a specific cost per meter cubed that your water meter records.

In addition to this page, we’ve produced a general guide to submitting meter readings covering all home and business utilities.

How often are water meter readings taken?

Your business water supplier should arrange for a meter reading to be taken every six months.

However, we recommend that you take and submit meter readings more regularly than this. The advantages of taking regular meter readings are:

  • Your business water bills will be more accurate.
  • If your property has recently been vacant, it will stop your water supplier from continuing to charge you for water.
  • It will help you detect water leaks.

What if I don’t have a water meter?

If your business or home doesn’t have a water meter, then your water supplier will charge for water and sewerage services in one of the following two ways:

  • Assessed charges – Assuming a fixed water consumption each year based on property type.
  • Rateable value – A fee based upon the rateable value of your property.

The Water Industry Act 1999 states that consumers of water may request a water meter, and the local water company will be obliged to install the meter unless the installation is not reasonably practical or if doing so would incur an unreasonable expense.

Find out if you can save money by requesting a water meter installation with our water meter calculator.

What is a smart water meter?

A smart meter measures water usage in the same way as an old-fashioned water meter, but has the additional ability to transmit a meter reading wirelessly.

The typical smart meter in the UK will electronically send the figures displayed on the front of the meter to your supplier every 15 minutes.  You can also access this “live” water consumption data through an online portal.

Smart water meters are becoming more widely used in the water industry as they provide a more complete picture of a property’s water consumption, and algorithms are capable of detecting potential leaks or anomalies.

Check out our complete guide to smart water meters.

What are the benefits of having a smart water meter?

There are significant benefits, both environmentally and economically, in installing smart meters at your business:

Real-time water consumption data

Without a smart meter, it is challenging to understand how much water your business or home consumes. With a smart meter, you will have access to an online portal that allows you to analyse water consumption hour by hour.

Water usage alerts

Water leaks are awfully common but easily detected with a smart water meter. A smart meter portal can alert you to significant increases in water usage, which indicate a water leak, allowing you to fix the problem and avoid substantial property damage.

Save money

Water suppliers charge businesses for every cubic meter of water they consume, even if a leak causes this consumption. Detecting a leak early with a smart meter can save your business thousands by preventing the water charges associated with a leak.

Save time

We recommend that businesses without smart meters regularly take water meter readings to allow their business water suppliers to invoice accurately. A smart meter takes away this hassle, as the meter readings will get to the water supplier immediately.

Improve your business sustainability

Businesses can cheaply install water saving devices. With a smart meter, you can immediately observe how your water-saving measures have reduced water consumption. Water is scarce in the UK, so even small reductions in consumption help to make your business more sustainable.

Accurate business water supplier bills

Your business water supplier uses the data from a smart water meter to invoice your business accurately. No more suffering from water supplier consumption estimates that can often lead to inaccurately expensive water bills.

Consumption benchmarking

Larger businesses with multiple properties can easily compare water usage from all their meters on a single smart meter portal. This allows deeper analysis, allowing them to identify water wastage in your business and incentivise data-driven best practices.

Is a smart water meter for my business compulsory?

No, not currently. In fact, in the non-household market, most businesses still have traditional water meters installed, meaning both suppliers and customers are still relying on manual water meter readings.

There is beauty in simplicity, but with climate change and water scarcity looming in a complex and highly interconnected world, data-driven decisions are essential for decision-making. Unfortunately, analogue water meters prevent analysts, regulators or suppliers from doing any in-depth data analysis, hampering their ability to understand problems.

For this reason, wholesalers have published plans to roll out smart meters to businesses in their region to provide customer behaviour insight and reduce leakage. This has not yet started, but smart meters will likely become compulsory shortly.

How do I get a smart water meter for my business?

Unlike household water suppliers, who will give you a smart water meter for free if requested, only certain business water suppliers offer smart water meters as part of signing a contract with them.

This is why it’s so important to get a wide range of quotes from a large selection of business water suppliers when you consider changing your water supply.

At AquaSwitch, we specialise in supplier comparison and even work closely with suppliers specialising in water-efficiency management. We can help you make a hassle-free switch to them and get smart water meters installed across your sites, often without any additional charges.

Simply fill in your contact details here, and our experts will contact you with the best options for your business.

Are water meter readings used when I switch business water suppliers?

Yes, an initial water meter reading will be taken when you switch business water suppliers.

The initial meter reading will be recorded on the centralised water database and will be used by:

  • Your previous water supplier to calculate a final bill
  • Your new water supplier is a starting point for your first bill.

It is worth upgrading to a smart water meter when you switch suppliers; it will make it easier to understand your usage and spot any leaks or water mismanagement.

Water meter FAQs

Here are our answers to frequently asked questions that we have encountered on water meters in the UK!

What does AMR stand for?

AMR stands for Automatic Meter Reading and refers to any technology that automatically collects consumption data from water meters and transmits it to a central database for billing, troubleshooting, and analysing.

All smart meters use AMR technology, which makes them “smart” and a cornerstone of any IoT (Internet of Things) network as it provides crucial water usage data for decision-making.

Some water companies define “AMR devices” as sensors that can read water meters from a distance. This allows water company staff to take thousands of readings daily by driving slowly on the same road as the water meters.

These devices will soon cease to exist, though, as they are replaced by fully-wireless smart meters.

Is my water meter faulty?

If you suspect that your water meter may be faulty and giving inaccurate meter readings, we suggest considering a water audit.

In a water audit, experts will analyse the historical consumption of water and meter readings at your property to determine if there is a problem. A site visit will follow, where an expert can physically inspect and test the meter.

Where a faulty meter has been identified, we can help you reclaim over-charging from your supplier for up to five years!

If this is the case, fill in your contact details.

Are water meters compulsory?

For households, this depends on your area. In the British water industry, water wholesalers can choose to install meters in their network.

In practice, most commercial properties have a water meter. Around 5% of businesses operate under an unmeasured water tariff, and these are usually the cases where the cost of installing a water meter is prohibitive.

In the household water market, the picture is much more mixed. Some wholesalers are rolling out a universal metering programme to help them manage the water network.

Legally speaking, a water network operator can insist on installing a water meter if a house:

  • uses an automatic watering device (such as a garden sprinkler);
  • automatically fills a swimming pool or pond;
  • has a large bath;
  • uses a reverse osmosis softening unit;
  • has a power shower;
  • is located in an area of serious water stress.

Are UK smart water meters controversial?

Smart meters, in general, raise privacy concerns because of how data is stored. This is, in fact, a worry for all smart devices, including electricity and gas smart meters, as well as intelligent cameras.

The fact that smart meter data tends to be stored in centralised servers owned by the suppliers themselves means that there is a need for trust in the supplier, who, being a private entity, will not always have your best interests at heart.

Regulators like Ofwat are supposed to ensure that the data storage is safe and that it isn’t being sold off or hacked, but the reality is far from this, with hacks, leaks, and even outright data sales being commonplace.

One commonly discussed solution is using Web 3 tools like blockchains to ensure that the data remains private, secure, and owned by the individuals to whom it belongs.

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