More than 10,000 households in Farnham will have water meters fitted as part of a compulsory programme by South East Water, before it is rolled out to Aldershot and Ash.

The scheme is part of a nine-year, £390m project by the utilities company designed to combat a shortage of available water in south-east England and East Anglia.

Around 50% of customers will find their water bills increasing to use the same amount of water thanks to the switch to metering, while roughly half will pay less.

However, the company estimates that on average households use approximately 10% less water once a meter is fitted.

For customers who end up paying more as a result of being metered, the price increase will be phased across four six-monthly bills.

Of the 11,000 Farnham customers who currently do not have a water meter, just under 10% will live in homes not suitable for installation.

South East Water will install the ‘smart meters’ on a street-by-street basis between March to October and affected residents will receive a letter of notification up to four weeks before the work begins.

After the work in Farnham is complete, South East Water will spend four to six weeks installing meters in Ash towards the end of 2014, before moving on to Aldershot, with the exact number of households yet to be confirmed.

About half the installations will require excavations of the pavement in front of a customer’s house, an operation the company says should take two hours, with the mains water being cut off for roughly 15 minutes.

Other installations will require digging of the grass verge in front of the home, and a minority of installations will involve engineers going into houses to gain access to the stop tap.

South East Water said that, once installed, the meters would be read remotely by a technician walking close to them with a hand-held device, meaning minimal disruption for residents.

The programme to install water meters began in Basingstoke in the summer of 2011 and is set to conclude in 2019 or 2020.

Charles Healey, metering manager at South East Water, said: “Installing meters is a key part of our plan to manage future demand for water.

“Research has found that customers on a water meter are encouraged to think about their water use and behaviour.”

A spokesman for the Energy Saving Trust said saving water also helped save energy, as almost a quarter of a household’s energy bill comes from heating water.

He said that if everybody in a family of four replaced one bath a week with a five-minute shower, they could save up to £15 a year on gas bills and up to £25 on metered water bills.

To encourage residents to use less water, South East Water will be leaving a ‘welcome pack’ once they have installed the new meters, which will include a ‘hippo bag’ to make toilets more water efficient, and a four-minute shower timer.

For those with a low household income, the firm also offers the possibility of a support tariff for those whose water is metered.