Water bill increase 2023: how much are average water bills going up by in England and Wales - rise explained

Campaigners have pointed out the bill hike has come after poor performance on sewage discharges, and at a time when the cost of living crisis is squeezing household budgets

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The average water bill is set to increase by 7.5% from April 2023, industry body Water UK has revealed.

Suppliers have argued that the rise - which is below the rate of inflation - will allow them to pump extra investment into sewage management and water supply schemes. But cost of living campaigners have warned the utility bill hike could prove to be a tipping point for millions of households who are struggling to keep up with bills.

The uplift has also come in for criticism due to water companies’ poor performance with storm overflows. Sewage discharges into rivers and the seas around the UK have made open-water swimming dangerous in many areas, September 2022 data from Surfers Against Sewage has shown. It says it recorded at least 2,884 sewage spills in January 2023.

It follows news from summer 2022 that the bosses of water firms were seeing their salaries and bonuses rise despite most companies’ failures on sewage and leaks. Shareholders have also benefitted in the face of these issues. Pop star and prominent environmentalist Feargal Sharkey referenced these payouts in his criticism of the bills hike, with the Green Party and several MPs echoing his words.

The change to bills will coincide with several other household cost increases, including for council tax and energy bills. It means household budgets will be squeezed yet further, with public body the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warning recently that living standards will fall to their worst rate since the 1950s over the course of 2023.

So how much will the average UK water bill increase by - and what has been said about the move?

How much are average water bills rising?

On 2 February, water industry body Water UK announced bills for households across England and Wales will be going up by 7.5%. The move does not apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland where water infrastructure is nationalised.

Water bills are set to go up for households across England and Wales (image: Adobe)Water bills are set to go up for households across England and Wales (image: Adobe)
Water bills are set to go up for households across England and Wales (image: Adobe)

The biggest increase in almost 20 years will see bills increase by around 8p per day to an average of £1.23. It could see annual bills climb £31 year-on-year to £448 for a typical household.

But given these figures are an average and water bills are calculated in different ways (for example, not all houses have meters), your bill could be much higher or a lot lower than these figures. It comes as an estimated one in five households are already struggling to keep up with their utility bills.

Water bills ‘still lower’ in real-terms than 2013

But Water UK has argued that water bills remain lower in real-terms than they were a decade ago. It said the increase reflected higher energy costs, with water companies using approximately 2% of the nation’s electricity, and would also allow for the “highest level of investment on record” in water infrastructure.

The trade body said suppliers were set to invest an extra £70 billion in a bid to “eliminate harm” from storm overflows, as well increase water supplies through new reservoir construction and cross-country water transfer schemes. It added that it was stumping up extra support for vulnerable consumers who may struggle to afford the bills hike.

“With an average increase of around 60p a week, most customers will again see a below-inflation increase in their water bill. However, we know that any increase is unwelcome, particularly at the moment,” said Water UK’s director of policy Stuart Colville.

“That is why companies are also releasing an extra £200 million to help those that may be struggling. Anyone with worries should contact their water company or go to supportontap.org for advice.

Mr Colville added that water companies would never cut supplies off for customers who fall behind on their payments. In reference to the British Gas controversy, he said water companies would never force consumers to get prepayment meters.

MPs have said water bill hikes were only ‘rewarding failure’ on issues like sewage leaks (image: Getty Images)MPs have said water bill hikes were only ‘rewarding failure’ on issues like sewage leaks (image: Getty Images)
MPs have said water bill hikes were only ‘rewarding failure’ on issues like sewage leaks (image: Getty Images)

But the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) warned there was a postcode lottery for the support on offer from water suppliers, which could lead some struggling people to “slip through the net”.

“Water is essential for all of us so no-one should be worried about being able to afford their bill. These increases will bring more uncertainty to struggling households at a time when they can’t be certain they will get the help they need,” said CCW CEO Emma Clancy.

“Low-income households need immediate relief and the long-term security of knowing their water bill will be affordable. It’s not fair that struggling households face a postcode lottery when it comes to getting help with their bill – that’s why we urgently need a new water affordability scheme that provides consistent support based on people’s needs.”

Opposition MPs have called for the renationalisation of the UK’s water infrastructure. Labour MPs Mick Whitely and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were among those to voice their opposition to the bills hike, with Ribeiro-Addy saying: “This is what rewarding failure looks like.” In recent weeks, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey has said she wants to see an end to raw sewage being pumped into waterways “more quickly” than the current 2050 target.

She also revealed a “consumer bill-driven” funding model was going to be used to finance new infrastructure to meet this end. Legislation that would prevent water companies accessing public funds if they fail to take enough action to stop sewage discharges is currently passing through Parliament.