From water rates to universal water metering in just 500 years!

The BBC today is carrying an interesting story about a call from the Environment Agency for near universal water metering in England and Wales before 2050. The piece covers many of the popular arguments for and against increased metering so I won’t dwell on those here.

I just thought it was worth posting a quick note about the history of the lingering water rates and rateable value system. This story was first told to me by Professor Jean Shaoul at the University of Manchester and shows that water rates can be traced back to Henry VIII.

Jean wrote back in 1998 about Henry VIII’s arguments with the monasteries about various things. One of his main gripes was that under monastery control many roads had become impassable due to accumulated surface water among other things. Rateable values were an answer and the basis to tax properties alongside highways to pay for proper drainage.

Needless to say this surface water drainage tax was not intended to be fit for purpose 500 years later for a world whose climate change and water resource challenges were inconceivable in the 1500s. Yet it remains a primary basis to charge for potable water consumption and foul water disposal within people’s homes!

Update (16/11/2016): Public domain featured image added from this source.

Duncan Thomas


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