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Thames Water pulls the plug on water saving freebies

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

Thames Water has stopped offering free water saving devices as pressure on the natural resource grows, and amid the cost-of-living crisis. The move has been branded ‘disappointing’ by the consumer water body.

The water and wastewater firm which serves 15 million customers across London and Thames Valley, has temporarily withdrawn its offer of free water saving gadgets.

A message on its water saving devices web page, read: “Sorry… We have closed this site until further notice. Unfortunately, this website is not accepting orders currently. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Over the last few years, Thames Water provided devices such as water saving taps and shower heads free of charge to customers completing its water savings calculator.

But in recent times, it has undertaken a target-driven plan to install smart water meters, reaching a key milestone in April 2021 with half a million connected. It expects to have meters fitted for all suitable homes by 2035.

For customers on smart meters with high water use, it offers free ‘smarter home visits’ where the team help households save water to reduce future bills. It also includes fixing leaking taps and toilets for free.

Thames Water said smart metered customers use on average 17% less water than those without a meter and typically high-using households can reduce their usage by around 100 litres per day following one of its ‘smarter home visits’.

It is understood that the smart water meter roll-out has been prioritised above the offer of free water saving devices for customers for now.

‘Disappointing it’s not offering free water saving devices’

Last year, Thames Water led a pilot scheme as part of water trade body, the Consumer Council for Water’s independent review of water affordability to see how firms could strengthen the link between efficiency and keeping bills affordable.

It found that on average, its ‘smarter home visits’ can reduce water use by 75-90 litres a day, with around 10% of visits identifying wastage issues, such as leaking toilets, with savings possible of around 229 litres a day.

However, its review also found that fitting water devices, such as showerheads, tap aerators, dual flush converters and shower timers, lead to long-term savings.

In total, water bill savings are estimated between £40 and £366 a year, with average savings for both ‘smarter home visits’ and wastage at £99 a year.

Thames Water wrote in the report: “Digital engagement utilising smart meter data is the key emerging technology which could deliver both water efficiency and wastage demand reduction.”

Off the back of this, the decision to temporarily remove water saving freebies has been branded ‘disappointing’ by the statutory consumer body for the water industry in England and Wales.

Cath Jones, head of company engagement at the Consumer Council for Water (CCW), said: “It’s disappointing that Thames Water now appears to be the only water company in England and Wales not offering free water-saving devices to its customers. We understand it wants to focus on home and business audits, which it says can deliver the best savings for customers, but we think it’s important households have a wide range of options – especially given the growing pressure on water resources and people’s budgets.

“While we discuss this decision with Thames Water, we’d urge customers to explore the company’s water-saving advice, which can help reduce your water and energy bills. If you’re struggling to afford your water bill the company also has a range of financial support schemes, including a social tariff for low-income households, that can ease some of the pressure.”

Compulsory metering amid ‘serious water stress’

An estimated three billion litres of drinking water is wasted in the UK every day, according to UK business water supplier firm Everflow.

Given the UK heatwave with temperatures set to reach new records in parts of England, Thames Water has urged residents to control their water usage. Households are advised to take shorter showers, limit the use of garden hoses, fix leaky loos and dripping taps to help save water.

It explained that the prolonged spells of hot weather increase the demand for water, putting a strain on the network. This accelerates the draw on rivers, underground aquifers, and water stored in reservoirs. However, it added it’s “not currently expecting to introduce restrictions on water use this summer”.

Indeed, Thames Water is one of several water companies operating in areas classified as in ‘serious water stress’ by the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales in 2013.

Nearly a decade on, water resource in London and Thames Valley remains under the most intense pressure and there’s a real risk that people’s demand for water could outstrip rainfall and availability of water resources.

As such, Thames Water has had to explore different options to try and reduce the pressure on water resources, including compulsory metering. This is different to most other regions where metering is still optional, so customers have the choice to trial a meter or stick with unmetered charges.

The smart water meters provide usage data in real-time, helping manage its network and allowing customers to understand their water use. It also said smart meters had been “a pivotal tool” in its battle to reduce leakage and “meet the unprecedented demand for water influenced by the coronavirus pandemic”.

To date, smart meters have helped detect more than 28,000 leaks on customers’ private supply pipes, which have been repaired by Thames Water or the property owners and saved 43 million litres of water a day.

Customer side leaks account for around a quarter of Thames Water’s total leakage and the meter data was cited as playing a large part in the company meeting its leakage reduction target in 2019/20.

It follows an investigation by the water regulator, Ofwat, which in June 2018 revealed the Thames Water board “did not have sufficient oversight and control of the company’s leakage performance” as it was told to compensate around 3.5 million households in London and Thames Valley to the tune of £120m, via a rebate in bills.

Other companies that have introduced, or are in the process of introducing compulsory metering include South East Water, Southern Water, Affinity Water and SES Water.

‘Invaluable data’

Brianne Kearney, regulatory affairs manager at Everflow, a water supplier to UK businesses, said it is right that Thames Water appears to be prioritising the roll-out of smart water meters over offering households water saving freebies.

She said: “It’s important we are prioritising access to vital tools to deliver demand management targets, support customers with water efficiency and detect leakage.

“Thames Water’s use of data can help to ensure customers’ bills are accurate and can identify opportunities to reduce leakage and support businesses in reducing their consumption.

“Additionally, most of the free devices being given away are relatively low-cost, and are accessible to customers through other means. Smart metering is costly to deliver and can be complicated for Non-Household (NHH) customers to arrange themselves at an affordable price. The real value is in the data, which enables us to track the savings from water saving devices and identify areas for opportunity.”

She added that Everflow “actively encourages all wholesalers to consider smart metering” as it “continues to campaign for this through all major regulatory reviews”.

Thames Water confirmed to YourMoney.com that it had taken the decision to remove the free water saving devices from this financial year, but it did not have further details on when they would be made available again. It declined to comment further.

Water saving devices and ways to save on your bills

YourMoney.com contacted a number of water companies in England to see if they offer water saving devices for customers covered in their regions. Here’s what they told us:

Anglian water: It doesn’t have specific giveaways but had a guide with seasonal saving tips.

Bristol Water: Customers can find water saving advice here and it also offers free devices here when customers enter their postcodes.

Northumbrian Water Limited: It offers water saving kits for customers to order through its Northumbrian Water or Essex & Suffolk Water websites.

Severn Trent: Customers who answer questions about their water habits on the GetWaterFit website will receive water saving advice as well as recommendations for free products that could help reduce usage.

Southern Water: It offers free water saving home visits for water and wastewater customers on a water meter with average or higher than average usage to qualify. The team offers ways for people to save, and includes the installation of free water saving devices too. For those who don’t want a home visit or don’t meet the criteria, customers can use its GetWaterFit savings calculator where they can claim free water saving devices.

South West Water: It offers tips to help people cut water usage as well as offering some free and subsidised water saving products.

United Utilities: It offers water saving tips and via the webpage, customers can order free water saving devices through the GetWaterFit link.

Wessex Water: It offers water saving devices all year round. Customers can claim by completing an online usage calculator first.

Yorkshire Water: Customers can order free water saving devices via the website.

Alternatively, households can enter their postcodes on the SaveWaterSaveMoney site to see if they can gain some water saving freebies.

Average water and sewerage bills in England and Wales rose 1.7% to £419 in April, adding £7 to annual bills, according to industry body Water UK. See our Water bill help for more information to save money on the ‘hidden utility’.

In addition, billpayers can buy water saving devices online or in DIY stores from £2+, such as tap aerators and flush reduction bags.