Our monthly look at the questions in the CON29DW examines how properties are billed.
The basis of charging is covered by question 4.4 of the CON29DW, which reads “What is the current basis for charging for sewerage and water services at the property?”
What this means, simply, is whether a property is billed on what is known as a measured or unmeasured basis.
The most common of these nowadays is a measured basis. This means that the property is fitted with a water meter, and the charges are based on the actual volume used at the property. All properties constructed since 1990 are fitted with a meter, as are all non-household properties.
There are three components to a bill: clean water, used water and surface water. With metered properties, clean water (water supplied to the property) is based on the actual volumes used. Used water (i.e. anything that comes from inside the house, such as sinks, toilets, washing machine or dishwashers) is billed as a percentage of the fresh water used. Surface water – primarily rain water which runs off the property and into sewers – is billed dependent on property type and location. As not all properties discharge surface water to the public sewer, this element is not included on all bills.
The other common method of charging is unmeasured, also known as rateable value. This is found in older properties, and is based on the size and value of the property. Both clean and fresh water are charged on this basis.
A property’s rateable value is based on the old rates system (which was replaced by the controversial community charge, which was subsequently replaced by council tax), which assessed the property for taxation by the local authority. Water rates were then determined by the value assigned to the property. As rates were abolished in 1990, many older properties are still charged on their value almost 30 years ago. Council tax banding, which has been in place since 1993 cannot legally be used as the basis for any form of charging other than council tax, so water companies are unable to reassess properties on this basis.
A final, less common way of billing properties, is by what is known as assessed charging. This occurs in situations where a meter would normally be fitted at a property (either when newly-built or at the owner’s request) but the water company is unable to fit one. In these circumstances, the charges will be based on the average consumption in the area for similar type/sized properties.
Why does this matter? To many people, whether a property has a water meter is one of the many water-related questions they have. For properties with only a few occupants, a water meter can represent a considerable saving. For large families (or families with young children), it can work out more expensive. A water leak within the property (on the private pipework) can also be costly for metered properties, with the owner being responsible for the wasted water.
The presence of absence of a water meter can have significant cost implications for the property owners, and is often one of the most important questions on the CON29DW for homebuyers.