Households to be charged €175 for water until meters installed
HOUSEHOLDERS will be forced to pay a flat-rate charge for their water for at least three years.
The Government will begin installing meters in homes from next year, but said yesterday that all households would pay a flat-rate charge until 2014.
That means homes which have a meter installed before then will have no incentive to reduce consumption. This is because they will have to pay a flat charge -- likely to be €175 a year -- instead of being billed on the basis of use.
Pressure mounted on the Government to set out how it would charge households for water after Environment Minister Phil Hogan refused to say how much the annual charge would be.
He also admitted that not until meters to measure consumption had been installed in the State's 1.4 million homes would households be encouraged to reduce their usage.
This means that a person living alone will have to pay the same annual charge as a family of six for the foreseeable future.
It comes after the Irish Independent revealed last month that a flat-rate charge would be introduced from next year, despite Fine Gael having promised that water charges would not be in place until a meter was in every home in the country.
Mr Hogan confirmed that the roll-out of water meters would begin early next year, but he could not say how much families would pay.
"What we're doing next year is introducing a water-metering programme and it will be rolled-out over three years," he said. "There will be one charge, a household charge.
"We're obliged under the EU/IMF agreement to bring in a household charge. I'm not going to speculate on what figures (for the charge) will be ultimately decided. Over and above a generous, free, domestic allowance, they (households) will be paying more money if they waste water."
It is not yet clear if low-income households will get a waiver and the charges will not be decided on for at least three years.
It is also unclear how the €500m water-meter programme will be funded, with Mr Hogan saying it could be financed either by the National Pension Reserve Fund or the Department of the Environment.
Ireland is one of the only countries in the EU not to charge for domestic water.
The Government will face stiff opposition to putting a charging system in place.
Already, the collection of commercial water rates, which are charged to businesses, schools and state bodies, is as low as 27pc in some counties. Unpaid bills of €90m are outstanding.
Dublin City Council engineer Tom Leahy told a water-metering conference that average household water bills could be as much as €400 per year. Bills in the UK averaged at around €400 per annum, he said.
Professor Richard Tol of the ESRI said households should be encouraged to switch to meters to save money.
"You pay for the water you use with a meter or a flat charge which is high enough -- and increasing over time -- to encourage people to change to meters," he said.
"The current plan of meters in every home is a major logistical operation. It's unclear that the Government has the right skills and people to do this."
Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins said the Government should "come clean" on what households would be expected to pay.