The CON29DW Explained – changes in basis of charging

Our series on the questions in the CON29DW concludes with a look at changes in the ways properties are charged.

The final question of the CON29DW, 4.5, reads “Will the basis for charging for sewerage and water services at the property change as a consequence of a change of occupation?”

As explained in our discussion of question 4.4, properties are usually billed on either a measured or unmeasured basis (i.e. with a water meter, or based on the property size & value). And while this basis of charging will usually remain consistent from one owner to the next, there are circumstances where it can change.

The first of these is where a water meter is installed at the property, but not currently being used. Any property owner is entitled to have a meter fitted for free by their water company.

After fitting, owners have the option of reverting back to an unmeasured basis should they change their mind. The most common reason for this is the measured supply working out more expensive than anticipated. For Severn Trent customers, customers can revert to an unmeasured basis within 24 months, or 30 days after receipt of their fourth bill. You can read more about this on Severn Trent Water’s website. The meter will remain in place, but not be used for charging the property.

This is relevant to question 4.5 because if a meter is fitted at a property, any new occupants will be charged on a measured basis, regardless of how the property was previously charged. This means that even though a property is billed as unmeasured for the current owners, upon a change of ownership, the new owners will pay for the property on a measured basis.

Water companies are also entitled to fit a meter at a property when there is a change in occupation. Although Severn Trent do not presently do this, a number of other companies – including South Staffs Water, who operate within the Severn Trent region – do. The government prefers properties to be fitted with a meter as it reduces wastage and allows customers to be charged more fairly, and they introduced legislation allowing water companies to fit meters upon change of occupation.

While many regulated searches (and some solicitors) believe that a water bill is a reliable indicator of how the property will be billed in future, this is not always the case. Although a measured property will not switch to unmeasured upon change of occupancy, the opposite can be true. As the presence or absence of a water meter can make a substantial difference to a property’s bills, we would always recommend confirming how a property will be charged.