Thames Water smart meters: company ‘should be headed off’ as none yet to be installed, says campaigner
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Thames Water has been slammed by sewage activists as being “entirely predictable” as the firm has admitted it has not installed a single smart water meter.
A total of 204,700 smart water meters had been promised by the water company to be fitted in the Thames Valley by the end of March 2025.
But in its annual performance report the water firm said there had been “no delivery on the programme in 2022/23” although “£1.062 million has been spent on preparatory work for meter installations.”
Ash Smith, founder of campaign group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, said Thames Water “should be headed off by the regulators” as water companies “do whatever makes their shareholders and senior executives the most money”.
Mr Smith added: “Did they learn nothing from the way companies that were told in 2013 to fit monitors on sewage overflows by 2020 did very little until the last minute - and still haven’t finished doing it?”
The installations are part of a £70m programme to fit hundreds of thousands of the devices to support the UK’s “green economic recovery” from Covid-19.
Regulators hope that the installation of smart water meters will help households to cut their water use and reduce the strain on leaky water networks in England.
In July 2021, Ofwat, the industry regulator, gave water companies permission to invest £2.7bn which could later be recovered through bills to accelerate projects to “build back greener from the pandemic”.
Thames Water was earmarked £71.9m under the plan to roll out smart meters in the Thames Valley.
According to the Guardian, it is understood that more than 200,000 pre-installation surveys have been carried out, identifying which types of work are needed, and 9,000 digs have been done to prepare for future meter fitting.
Thames Water has yet to install any meters under the programme but it has installed more than 900,000 outside the scheme.
A Thames Water spokesperson said: “We’re eight years into our smart metering journey, with the technology playing a critical role in addressing leaks, reducing water consumption, and making our water network more resilient in the face of a growing population and climate change.”
It is one of five water companies with legal powers to fit meters - there is no going back if one is fitted because the programme is compulsory.
The water firm said installations under the programme were due to start “soon” and it has reassessed the programme to focus on areas hit by drought during extreme weather such as the south-east of England which it called a “water stressed region”.
Thames Water said: “The south-east of England is a water-stressed region and we need to act now to protect our future resources. There is no monetary bonus that we receive for moving customers over to a smart meter.”
The new co-chief executive of Thames Water, who was the former CEO of Ofwat, Cathryn Ross, said earlier this month that the company was considering using smart meters to charge households who have bigger gardens more to reduce the use of hosepipes.
Currently if Thames Water misses targets between the delivery of the smart meter plan and how many leaks happen it will not be able to recover the cost of the programme. But in its report the firm said it was “engaging with Ofwat to consider removal of the linkage”.
Customers without smart water meters in England and Wales are billed a fixed amount each year based on the rateable value of their property but these bills can go up or down after installation of a meter. In Scotland unmetered customer’s bills are based on their council tax band.
It comes after Thames Water has been under fire recently for racking up a mammoth £14 billion debt and announcing the hiring of CEO Ms Ross, the former CEO of Ofwat.
Louise Reddy, policy officer at environment group Surfers Against Sewage, said the group is “not surprised that the waters between Ofwat and water companies have been muddied.”
She added: “We need a robust and challenging regulator to get us out of this mess. Not one that can’t draw the line between regulator and regulated.”