News

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Anger as our water charges 'among the highest in Europe'

* €470 cost for family of four with two grown-up children
* Daily allowance for children covers one shower, one flush

Paul Melia and Fionnan Sheahan

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

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A FAMILY with two adult children will be hit with water bills of almost €500 a year, despite Government promises to keep the 'average' charge per household at €238.

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A household with just two adults and no children will also pay €278 – €40 more than what the Government said the average family would pay when it released estimates before the local and European elections in May.

The free water allowance for children has also been dramatically reduced according to figures published yesterday by the water regulator, outlining the proposed level of water charges and allowances.

The Government previously said that up to 38,000 litres a year per child would be allocated - but that is to be reduced to 21,000 litres.

It means parents will be given only enough free water for their children to take one shower and flush the toilet once each day. Everything else will have to be paid for.

The dramatic reduction came about because Irish Water claimed children used less water than previously thought and the regulator agreed.

However, serious concerns have been raised that pensioners and families with children over 18 attending third-level or starting their careers will take a severe financial hit when charges start in October.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul said the charge was one of the highest in Europe, and would have "serious implications" for low-income households.

The proposed charge published by water regulator the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has not been finalised, but gives a clear indication of what families will pay.

The CER proposes capping bills for six months to allow people get used to paying for their water.

From next March, houses with meters will pay based on consumption. Just one-third of houses are expected to have meters.

Everyone else will continue to pay an assessed charge.

An unmetered household with one adult will be charged €176 a year for drinking water and wastewater services, with each additional person over 18 paying €102 extra.

Those charges are based on expected rates of consumption so homes with meters and "average consumption" can expect to pay the same.

The charge is halved if only one service is used – if you have a septic tank or private well, you will only pay for one service.

The regulator has also said that charges will only apply to consumption by adults, as the Government will fund the cost of providing water for children.

The proposals for water charges, which are subject to public consultation, also include:

* The rate per 1,000 litres will be €4.88. This covers the cost of drinking water and wastewater.

* The regulator proposes reducing Irish Water's costs by €200m because it is not "efficient".

* Irish Water will have to pay customers €10 if it fails to provide a high quality service such as neglecting to answer complaints promptly.

* If there is a leak, the charge will be capped until it is fixed. If you cannot drink the water, the charge for drinking water is reduced by 50pc – or 100pc if the problem exists longer than three months.

* The tariffs will remain in place for two years, after which they will be reviewed.

* There will be an €80 charge for owners of holiday homes.

But there was anger at the size of the proposed bills for what are regarded as average- sized families, which were far above the €238 average cited by the Government before the local elections.

The water regulator said every property in the country – occupied or unoccupied – was taken into account when deciding the charges.

This was because there was a cost associated with providing water to these homes, which had to be factored into bills.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul raised concerns that the cost of water was likely to rise, and that households with adult children would bear a "disproportionate" burden.

More than 350,000 households have three or more adults living in them, many of which would include adult children beginning their careers or in university.

Implications

"This establishes a culture of high charging which could have serious implications after 2016, recognised as the end of the transitionary period," said social justice officer Brendan Hennessy.

Age Action Ireland said the charging structure was "confusing" and it was difficult to see what it would mean for older people.

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which is the water regulator, has also decided that every home in the country will pay an 'assessed' or average charge until next March, so people can become used to paying for their water.

Fianna Fail environment spokesman Barry Cowen said the publication of the proposed water charges "exposed the Government's dishonesty".

Sinn Fein's environment spokesman Brian Stanley also accused the Government of "misleading the public" on the likely level of charges.

Irish Independent

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