Need expat info for Great Britain?
- Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, water supply in England and Wales has been privatized and you’ll need to pay for it, normally on a quarterly basis.
- Before you choose your electricity and/or gas provider, make sure you shop around — it could save you a lot of money. Renewable energy is also becoming more popular in the UK.
- If there are any gas appliances in your new home, make sure that they have all been checked by a registered Gas Safe engineer fairly recently.
After braving the real estate market in the UK — particularly in Greater London — you are probably rather relieved that you have finally found a new home. But before you can move in, unpack your belongings, and enjoy your expat life in the UK, you have to take care of a few more things. Handling UK utilities is one of those necessities.
Back to Basics: Water Supply Companies
The most basic of all UK utilities — indeed, utilities anywhere — is obviously water, including sanitation and sewage. In the UK, drinking water, as well as waste water disposal, is provided by a variety of regional companies.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the privatization of the UK utilities market has not affected the water suppliers. If you live in those parts of the UK, the tap water will be supplied by the responsible government agency or government-owned company, Scottish Water or Northern Ireland Water Limited, respectively.
However, the UK utilities market in England and Wales is sub-divided by a number of private water supply companies. Most of them used to be public agencies until the late 1980s or 1990s. These companies usually offer sewage services as well. In addition, there are some smallish local water suppliers, who have always been privately owned. They have a regional customer base, for example, in areas around Portsmouth, Cambridge, or Bristol.
How Safe Is the Tap Water?
Generally, the above-mentioned distinction in the UK utilities market would be of little interest to the consumer. However, the latest quality report (2016) from the Drinking Water Inspectorate of England and Wales criticized the water supplied by some smaller local providers. Over 6% of their quality tests had negative results — while 99% of all other water supplies passed every review.
However, this should not be an undue cause for concern. First of all, the private water suppliers in the UK utilities sector cover less than 20% of the population, and many of them are not located in areas that are popular expat destination. Second, there have not been any major health scares connected to any kind of tap water in the UK.
But if you use tap water a lot in order to prepare food for infants or people with chronic illnesses, you might want to check who your local provider is and how their drinking water quality is rated. In this case, you’ll be on the side of caution! If you move to Scotland, you can even look at quality statistics for your local drinking water on an interactive online map.
Selected Water Companies in England and Wales
- Thames Water (Greater London and the Thames Valley)
- United Utilities (North West England)
- Severn Trent Water (Midlands)
- Yorkshire Water (Yorkshire)
- DCWW (Wales)
Get Connected with a Water Provider
So, how do you sort out the first item on your to-do list for UK utilities? In order to register as a customer with a water company, just follow the steps below:
- Make sure that your new accommodation is actually in their area. This is as easy as doing a postcode check on the company website.
- Find out if the company turns off the water when the property is unoccupied. Most suppliers don’t do that, but you want to avoid any unpleasant surprises on moving day.
- Sign up online or call the company helpline to guide you through the registration process. Usually, you need to provide your new address, your contact details, the date when you want to move in, and a meter reading of the new property.
- If you are moving into a rental property, ask your landlord for the meter reading or for access to do a quick check yourself.
- Sometimes, if it is still an unmetered property, the supply company will use the opportunity of a change in tenancy to install a water meter now.
Time to Talk Bills…
Costs for UK utilities like water are normally based on a fixed fee, as well as running costs for the metered amount of water actually used. Unless the rental agreement explicitly states otherwise, you are responsible for paying the water bill. As for the general UK cost of living, the average household pays between 300 GBP and 450 GBP in annual water and sewage bills.
If you move into a serviced apartment, all costs for UK utilities are included in the price. However, for expats on a budget, it is important to be careful. If you rent a room as a lodger in a shared apartment, you might want to have a quick look at all utility bills to see if your landlord is overcharging you.
But if you are the main tenant in a flatshare and your roomies are your lodgers, you are responsible for all utility costs. If your housemates don’t chip in with money for the water bill and it’s your name on the registration form, you are liable to pay their share. This also applies to other UK utilities like gas and electricity.
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