Saturday 25 October 2014

Firms who don't pay water bills may have to close

Paul Melia, Environment Correspondent

Published 07/04/2014 | 02:30

Firms which don't pay water rates may face closure
Firms which don't pay water rates may face closure

COMPANIES who refuse to pay their water charges could lose their tax clearance certificates, which allow them to conduct business.

Irish Water's parent company Bord Gais told the Government that penalties for businesses which refused to pay their charges should be "less forgiving" than those applying to homeowners.

It insisted that "consequences" would have to follow non-payment in its submission to government as part of a bid to win the contract to establish Irish Water.

It sets out a range of concerns about non-payment by commercial customers, including businesses and landlords.

"For commercial customers, a robust credit vetting process would be put in place and where applicable a security deposit may be required in cases where debt default is a risk," the document said.

"Clear engagement rules and consequences are required. . . for example, will domestic property owners be taken to court, or can commercial properties have supply removed for non-payment?

"Or will issuance of a valid tax clearance certificate be dependent on water charge payments?"

There is major concern that poor collection rates among commercial customers could hamper network investment.

Just over half (56pc) currently pay their bills, and €139m in outstanding charges are owed.

The sector is expected to contribute €200m a year to fund Irish Water's operations and capital investment programme, and sources said that defaulters would be aggressively pursued.

While domestic customers cannot be cut off, businesses can.

AMENDMENTS

"When the (Water Services) bill came through the Dail it only focused on the domestic end of it," one source said.

"There's nothing there at the moment, so it would have to be amended in legislation.

"We will chase them much more aggressively. Bord Gais's record on collection is very high. You just apply those normal industry standards, and county councils don't follow those.

"We manage companies with gas, and put programmes in place, but at the end of the day they have to pay something or they get cut off."

The submission from 2012 also highlights concerns about the local authority and private rented sectors, saying they present the "highest risk of debt default".

"It is recommended that due to high turnover in this sector that if possible the landlords/ property owners in this customer segment are held accountable for the water charges to their premises," it said.

For domestic customers, payment options should include the ability to pay bills in cash through An Post, which was considered the "most preferred option".

Payment plans should also be put in place to help those unable to pay their bills, while any additional water allowance for disadvantaged or elderly customers should be administered through the Department of Social Protection.

The Department of the Environment said that decisions on payments and enforcement options would be decided by the Commission for Energy Regulation, the water regulator.

"It's likely to be the Commission for Energy Regulation which will make most of these decisions, including how much people will pay, how they will be billed and the treatment of commercial customers," a spokesman said.

Irish Independent

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