We explain the cost of public water services in Scotland and whether switching to a private supply could save you money.
Water bills Scotland
Did you know that you don’t have to rely on a mains water company to provide your property with running water?
A lot of homeowners and businesses might think they’re stuck with Scottish Water but you do have a choice.
Anyone in Scotland has the right to drill a borehole or create a private water supply on their land.
You can extract up to 20,000 litres of water per day for free. If you plan to extract more than that (if you run a working farm, for instance) you’ll need an abstraction license.
How much water do you need?
According to Statista, the average Scot uses 165 litres of water per day.
This means that even if you’re running a business with several employees using the water, 20,000 litres per day is more than sufficient.
Having access to your own supply gives you unlimited access to fresh, wholesome water all year round without having to pay for mains water and sewerage services. Hosepipe bans won’t apply to you and you’ll save money in the long run.
There’s also the benefit of being able to regulate the pH and quality of your water.
If you’re interested in ditching mains water and sewerage charges read on to discover how.
Who supplies your water in Scotland?
Most households in Scotland are provided with water from the public supply by Scottish Water.
Scottish Water has been providing water to Scotland’s homes and business premises since 2002. It supplies drinking water to 2.46 million households and removes 847 million litres of wastewater every single day.
You may have a private source and therefore no need of a sewerage service. For example, if you live permanently in a mobile home. People with a private water supply don’t have to pay Scottish Water for it but there are some rules you must follow.
Many homes and business premises in rural regions of Scotland use a private water supply. It’s estimated that 3% of Scottish households use a private supply. One-third of the population in Argyll and Bute has a private supply.
Commercial enterprises may get their business water and sewerage services from a water supplier other than Scottish Water. (We’ll get into the full details further on).
Do Scots pay for water?
Most households in Scotland pay for their water and sewerage charges with their council tax bill. Property drainage is also included.
These are referred to as ‘unmeasured’ charges. How much you pay will depend on which Council Tax band you’re in.
Households exempt from paying council tax are still required to pay for water and waste water services. Full-time students are exempt from these charges.
Properties with a meter installed will receive metered charges. Unlike a bill from Scottish Water, there isn’t a fixed charge when using a meter. Every so often a professional will visit your home to take a meter reading to determine how much water you’re using.
Water charges calculated by the government are based on the rateable value of your property. These charges are paid to the Licensed Provider.
Many Scottish households operate on a private supply, meaning they aren’t connected to Scottish Water’s sewers and instead use private septic tanks.
Do businesses pay for water in Scotland?
Most Scottish businesses pay water and sewerage charges.
If a business is connected to the public sewerage system then they will pay water, sewerage and drainage charges. This is charged as a separate bill.
Business premises can choose a Licensed Provider for their non-domestic water and sewerage services. The tariff a business pays will depend on which Licensed Provider they choose.
Landlords must inform their Licensed Providers about regarding occupancy changes. A helpful list of Licensed Providers in Scotland can be found here.
Roads drainage charges
From April 2021, Scottish Water simplified their roads drainage charges into a single ‘property drainage charge’.
This means that roads drainage will no longer appear on your water charges.
If you think these changes might affect your business you can get advice from the Scottish Water business customers page.
Are business water rates higher than domestic?
On average business customers pay higher water bills than domestic properties. An AquaSwitch study found that business customers can expect an annual average of £700.
Domestic properties are marginally cheaper for their waste water charges.
For many smaller companies, the price per litre of water use is the same for the same household clients. Businesses without a water meter installed will pay a similar price as domestic customers with a non-meter.
Remember that you can switch suppliers at any time. A new supplier may offer cheaper rates or you could consider taking charge of your own water and waste with a private borehole or well.
Does council tax include water Scotland?
Drainage, water and sewerage charges will be paid on your council tax bill. Any council tax bill reductions you receive will be applicable for water services.
Water fees across Scotland are regulated through the Scottish Water Industry Commission.
If you have a private supply you’re exempt from water and sewerage charges on your council tax bill.
How much is the average water bill in Scotland?
On average Scots are paying £369 per year for public water.
This data is based on houses in the B and C council tax bands. Your annual charge may be more if depending on your council tax band.
However, water bills in Scotland are rising – up to £16 extra per year. This is double the increase faced by England and Wales, and another blow to households already scraping by with rising energy costs.
Your annual council tax bill will show the water and sewerage charges collected by your local council and passed on to Scottish Water.
Scottish Water have warned that the fixed charge is set to rise further in the future. For more information on Scottish Water charges see here.
Could I save money with a private water supply?
One of the main benefits of a private water supply is the money you could save. Especially if you’re moving from a house supplied by public water to a rural area, expect to see a reduction in bills.
If you plan to install a new private supply, there are initial outlay costs to consider.
Boreholes access water deep underground. Expect the total cost, including surveying and installation, to be between £10,000 – £15,000.
Going forwards, the annual running cost could be as little as £50 depending on how much water you use.
Other options include natural springs and shallow wells. Natural springs are a good option for estates and campsites, providing there is a suitable source nearby.
Surface water is another method that takes shallow wells, springs, lochs, and burns as a water source.
Shallow wells and surface water are not the preferred options for a private supply as the quality of the water can be poor and generally less reliable.
You’ll need to consider the source and have your water regularly risk assessed to ensure that it’s fit for human consumption. If you’re a landlord there are specific rules regarding private water supplies.
However, after the initial cost you can start to reap the benefits of a private water supply, such as reduced bills and wholesome tasty water that hasn’t travelled far from the source.
Who can benefit from a private water supply?
A range of properties can benefit from a private water supply and see a reduction in their water bills.
As stated previously, anyone is entitled to dig a borehole on their land and drink water from their own private supply.
Read on to discover whether a private supply would suit your needs.
Private supplies give homeowners complete freedom over their water usage. You won’t have to worry about metered charges or the rising cost of water bills in Scotland.
With careful monitoring you can have a wholesome, delicious supply of fresh water for drinking, gardening and washing your car. In the summer you’ll not be subject to hose pipe bans and can enjoy your supply all year round.
Farms and Agricultural Businesses
Agricultural businesses could save a packet by switching from a water supplier to a private supply.
Though installing a borehole is expensive and potentially time-consuming, working farms need thousands of litres of water per day. Therefore a private supply should be seen as long-term investment that keeps water costs significantly lower than if you used mains supply water.
A private supply comes into its own in terms of providing greater pressure for irrigation and fresher water for livestock. Not to mention that farmers can use a hosepipe whenever they need to.
Housing estates and new builds
It’s not just rural properties that can benefit from a private water supply!
Increasing numbers of suburban housing estates are considering private water in a bid to reduce their annual water and waste costs.
Again, the initial capital outlay must be looked at from a longterm perspective; private water supplies are increasingly viewed as a sustainable option that could increase the value of your property.
If you’re moving to a house with a private supply already set up, you’ll be quids in!
Hotels, holiday lets and caravan parks are dependent on reliable, wholesome drinking water and adequate sewerage.
However, many are faced with rising costs, and also worry about summer droughts affecting their guests’ comfort.
Private supplies can provide a significant return on investment. Though more complicated to install than in domestic households, many caravan parks and hotels in remote parts of Scotland thrive on private water supplies.
Sports Clubs and Golf Courses
Recreation centres, football clubs, golf courses and rugby clubs all require showering facilities and fresh, clean drinking water. As with the previous examples, a private supply, particularly in a rural area, can be a wise investment.
Water companies can test private supplies in order to achieve the right balance of chemicals and appropriate pH levels for playing fields, pitches and golf courses.
An optimum pH for golf courses is between 5.5 – 6.5. Slightly acidic turfgrass will improve the overall look and health of the green.
Owners of sports clubs will be in greater control of their water source and see annual savings as a result of switching from mains suppliers.
How can I switch from mains supply water to a private supply?
Any household or business can switch from Scottish Water to a private supply. The Scottish Government provides information on private water grants to help people switch or improve the quality of their private supply.
Private water grants Scotland
Your local council can supply a grant of up to £800 per property for private water supplies.
You can use it to:
- improve your domestic, or commercial, private water supply
- set up a new private supply
- set up a domestic distribution system
Your application will not be means tested, i.e., your income and saving won’t be a deciding factor.
If you can demonstrate hardship you may be eligible for more than £800. How hardship is determined will depend on your local council’s policy. It’s best to contact your local authority for more information.
What private water grants can be used for
The local council £800 grant should be used to help bring your drinking water quality up to modern standards. This might include replacing lead pipes if you already have an existing supply or contributing towards the safe installation of a new supply.
The grant will not cover on-going maintenance.
To receive the grant you must apply before work has begun. You cannot claim the grant retrospectively.
The £800 also can’t cover the costs of getting you connected to the public supply. You’ll need to contact Scottish Water regarding this.
Who can apply?
You can apply for the grant if you meet the following criteria:
- your home or business is in Scotland and served by a private water supply
- the private supply is the main or sole source of water for human consumption purposes to these premises
- your private water supply needs to be improved to bring it up to modern standards.
It’s worth noting that the grant isn’t limited to homeowners. Tenants can apply for grants, too.
You can’t apply if:
- the building is for a public body or office-holder
- it’s for a new house or building
- you already have a connection to both a public and a private water supply (the Scottish Government deems you have already ‘improved’ the supply).
- the proposed work has already begun
- the work was finished before you submitted your application
- the premises is condemned, considered dangerous or about to be demolished
Joint applications, which cover all the premises served by a supply, can be submitted by owners or occupiers acting together.
If you share your supply with neighbouring premises, you may want to make a joint application.
In most cases, a joint approach can provide the most effective long-term solution to improve your water quality.
Static homes on caravan sites can also be awarded grants. To read more about the grant and how to apply visit the Scottish Government website page.
Water charges – final thoughts
To sum up, water bills and sewerage charges are going up in Scotland.
Whether you have a water meter installed, get your business water from Scottish Water or receive your wastewater services from other water suppliers, a private supply could save you money long-term and give you greater control over your precious drinking water.
If you’re unhappy with your water charges call the Scottish Water customer helpline on 0800 0778 778 or email email@example.com.
Business customers should use the contact details of their wholesale supplier. For more information on private water supplies visit the Scottish Government website or contact your local council.
If you’re a landlord with a private water supply you might like to read our helpful guide on how to safely maintain your supply.