Due to COVID-19, many employees in Singapore were working from home even before the Circuit Breaker measures were put in place during 7 April 2020 to 1 June 2020. Similarly, as we exit the Circuit Breaker in phases, many employees continue to work from home, in entirety or partially.
With numerous people in our households staying home or working from home, our utilities consumption will likely go up. It should also come as no surprise that this will translate into a bigger utilities bill.
The Government Realises That Household Utilities May Increase In 2020
As Part of the government’s budgets in 2020, U-Save rebates for utilities were doubled with a one-off U-Save Special Payment (Unity Budget), for eligible households based on our home size and number of household members.
These rebates – between $480 and $1,000 – will be paid in April 2020, July 2020, October 2020 and January 2021.
Source: GST Voucher Website
Subsequently, a further one-off $100 Solidarity Utilities Credit was provided to each household with at least one Singaporean (Fortitude Budget), for the July or August bill. This would be provided for all property types.
How Often Are Water Meters Checked?
While a “bill shock” was expected, it was likely not immediate as our water meter is only read once every two months, according to the SP Services website. On the months that meters are not read, the average daily usage of the last two actual reads will be used for our billing.
This means that at least one month, and maybe more, of increased usage may have passed, before we actually received the bill based on our actual usage.
Of course, those who want to be billed based on actual meter reading monthly can submit our meter reading by:
- Phone (1800-2222-333)
- SP Services smartphone app
- SP Utilities portal
- submitting a photo of our water meter reading via whatsapp to 8482 8636.
Also, while PUB may be our national water agency, SP Services acts as PUB’s metering, billing and payment collection agent.
PUB is also transitioning to a Smart Water Meter from 2021 and target to complete in 2023. With it, our water usage will be read several times daily, to improve and augment PUB’s capabilities in early leak detection within the water supply network.
Why Are There Different Charges On My Water Bill?
Our water bill comprises three components – Water Tariff, Water Conservation Tax, and Waterborne Fee. We are also charged based on our water usage, with those who use more than 40 cubic meters of water charged a higher price.
If we use between 0 and 40 cubic meters of water, we will be charged a lower price on all three cost components. If we use more than 40 cubic meters of water, we will incur a higher price on all three cost components.
This means that if we were typically using under 40 cubic meters of water each month, and exceed that amount in recent months because of our changing consumption patterns being at home more, the increase in our water bill may be even larger.
#1 Water Tariff
We are currently charged a Water Tariff of $1.21 or $1.52 for each cubic meter of water, depending on the two tiers of water consumption level.
The Water Tariff component of our bill is meant to cover costs incurred in various stages of water production process, including collection of rainwater, treatment of raw water and distribution of treated potable water to customers.
#2 Water Conservation Tax (WCT)
Introduced in 1991, the Water Conservation Tax charges a percentage of the water tariff. According to PUB, this is meant to reinforce the message that water is precious from the very first drop.
While we are charged the Water Conservation Tax from the very first drop of water that we use, what we are actually paying is the cost for PUB to produce and convey the next drop of potable water, which is likely to come from more costly production methods such as desalination and NEWater, rather than imported water or water collected from local catchments.
From the chart above, we can see that households who use more than 40 cubic meters of water per month have to pay $0.99, which is 65% of the already higher price of water they incur. On the other hand, households using less that 40 cubic meters of water per month are charged $0.61, or 50% of their Water Tariff, which is a lower percentage of the already lower amount they pay for each cubic meter of water.
#3 Waterborne Fee (WBF)
Similarly, we pay a Waterborne Fee of $0.92 or $1.18 per cubic meter of water we use, based on whether we use over or under 40 cubic meters of water.
The Waterborne Fee goes towards meeting the cost of treating used water and maintaining the used water network.
When Was Water Prices Last Raised?
Water prices were last raised in 2017, in two phases. We can see this on the above chart, with the first phase introduced on 1 July 2017 and second phase on 1 July 2018. Simultaneously, the Sanitary Appliance Fee (which was a fixed fee of $2.80 per toilet bowl fitting) and the Waterborne Fee were merged into a single volume-based fee. A second change to encourage water conservation was also included, by introducing a tiered Waterborne Fee for households using above 40 cubic meters of water each month.
The overall increase in total price we would incur for our water usage amounted around 30% to over 40%.
According to PUB, the increase in water price would go towards meeting rising costs of water treatment, reservoir operations, NEWater production, desalination, used water collection and treatment, as well as the maintenance and expansion of the island-wide network of water pipelines.
Looking at the PUB annual report, operating expenses had over taken operating income by its 2014 financial year.
According to its 2017 annual report, at the time of the water price increase, PUB’s cost of operations was $1.3 billion. This was a 66% increase from 10 years prior to that in 2008. Its operating income had only risen 38% in that time to $1.3 billion. Nevertheless, PUB still achieved a positive net income of $234 million in FY2017 because of government grants.
Source: PUB Annual Report 2017/2018
In its latest 2018/2019 annual report, its operating income had increased by 9.2%, while its operating expenses had increased by 6.1%. This is likely to be further improved in its 2019/2020 annual report as the full effects of its water price hikes come into effect.
Source: PUB Annual Report 2018/2019
According to the PUB website, it does not seem like water prices are raised very often, and the last time before the 2017 raise was in 2000.