We know household budgets remain under pressure. Most customers say our bills are already fair, affordable and value for money, but we are focused on doing what we can to improve on this position.
In 2015/16, customers on average saw their annual bill drop by around 7 per cent in real terms – the biggest reduction of any major water company in the UK – then rise slightly by 1.4 per cent in 2016/17. For 2017/18, we have been able to keep increases to the level of inflation – 2.2 per cent – bringing bills up to £420 on average, or £1.15p a day. That means prices are still lower than four years ago, and in that time we have invested c. £1.5 billion to maintain and improve our overall service to customers.
This year the number of customers on our social tariff – LITE (Low Income Tariff for Eligible Households) – increased to 6,200. Customers pay £1 a year extra to fund discounts of 20, 40, 60 and 80 per cent for those in need, depending on their financial circumstances.
Whether someone is eligible and the size of discount given is assessed in partnership with Citizens Advice, which looks at people's water and sewerage bills as a proportion of their disposable income.
With most of those on the tariff receiving the full 80 per cent discount, we have reached the limit of those we are able to help with the funds available. A customer consultation showed support to increase funding from customers to £2 in 2017/18 and £3 in 2018/19. On this basis, we expect to treble the number of customers accepted on to LITE over the next two years.
We are committed to metering as the fairest way to charge for water, encouraging water saving and ensuring our customers only pay for what they use. Eighty per cent of our customers already receive a metered bill. During the next five years, teams from our Integrated Metering and Developer Services alliance (IMDS) will be installing 86,000 new meters, upgrading another 412,000 and visiting 120,000 customers to offer efficiency tips and install water-saving devices.
These areas of work have been combined in our Wave programme, which offers all elements of metering and water efficiency in defined geographical areas that we visit in turn. This year we have made good progress, installing 13,000 new meters and proactively replacing 70,000 more across Norfolk and Milton Keynes.
Alongside our day-to-day operations we've also started a new smart metering trial in our innovation Shop Window in Newmarket. We have fitted smart meters at 7,500 properties in the town centre and are now remotely collecting hourly consumption data, totaling about 145,000 meter readings every day.
The data will help customers understand their water use, and help us to better understand how our water network operates. It has also alerted some customers to large leaks on their private supply pipes. We've developed an online customer portal that lets people view their consumption data, helping them to understand their water use and see where they can save water. We will gauge its effectiveness over the coming months to help develop future plans.