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Sunday 22 October 2017

Free water allowance to be based on numbers in house

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FAMILIES will be given a free water allowance based on the number of people living in their house rather than the size of it.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan has confirmed that he is going to issue a directive to Irish Water to ensure this happens when water charges come into effect late next year.

It came after the Irish Independent revealed a row between Mr Hogan and Irish Water over how to allocate the proposed free water allowance.

The Irish Water plan was to base the free allowance on the size of the house – such as the number of bedrooms in it.

Under this system, a family of two adults and three children in a three-bedroom house would get the same allowance as a single person living next door in a similar three-bedroom house.

But the family would almost certainly be using more water, and would use up its free allowance more quickly. The water charges would then kick in, leaving the family with proportionately higher bills per person than the single person living next door.

But a spokesman for Mr Hogan has now confirmed that he is going to direct Irish Water to base the free allowance on how many people were living in the house rather than the house size.

It is understood that Irish Water will comply with Mr Hogan's policy directive, as he has the power to do this as minister.

But none of the details of how to implement the "free allowance per person" have been worked out yet.

Families may have to provide Irish Water with a declaration of how many people are living in the house. But this provision could be open to abuse, if homeowners lie about the number of people living in their property. And it will also be more difficult for Irish Water to administer.

However, Mr Hogan is determined to have the allowance based on the number of people in the house to avoid penalising families with children.

Mr Hogan told RTE's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' that he was conscious that families with a lot of teenagers in the house used a lot of water.

"Irish Water will have to take into account the number of people in the house, but also take into account illnesses and extenuating circumstances that require people to use a lot more water," he said.

Mr Hogan's pledge means that Irish Water will also have to develop a system to take account of medical issues in the free allowance. This may involve providing a medical statement – but again, no details have been decided.

Mr Hogan said there would be a public consultation about the size of the free allowance and the cost of water charges over the next two months, with a final decision due to be made by Government in January or February next year.

The average person uses 145 litres a day, most of which goes on flushing the toilet, washing machines and showers.

However, the free allowance is expected to be only a portion of this amount, meaning that it will be next to impossible to avoid a bill.

Irish Independent

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