Saturday 21 October 2017

Businesses are failing to pay water bills

Irish Water is expected to take control of collecting water charges from commercial customers next year
Irish Water is expected to take control of collecting water charges from commercial customers next year
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Businesses owe local authorities almost €135m in unpaid water bills.

The highest amount is owed to the country's biggest local authority, Dublin City Council, which has outstanding debts of €16.5m on its books.

It is followed by Cork County Council, owed €11.4m, and Clare and Donegal which have arrears of some €10m each.

Local authorities are currently responsible for billing and collecting water charges from commercial customers, which range from pubs and hairdressers to large industrial users, but Irish Water is expected to take control next year.

Irish Water has the power to disconnect supply in the event of non-payment, but will facilitate repayment plans to help businesses in financial difficulty.

But the amounts owed show how local authorities are failing to adopt a get-tough approach to collecting outstanding amounts, with the most recent figures showing an average payment rate of just 55pc across the country.

The highest payment rate is in Fingal County Council, where three-quarters of businesses pay the charges. The lowest rate is in Leitrim County Council, which has a collection rate of just 35pc. The council has previously said that despite its best efforts, collecting the outstanding amounts is "extremely challenging".

The Local Government Auditor examined €1.74m of outstanding arrears in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council in Dublin and found that debtors were being pursued for €1.13m of the total amount owed.

Payment arrangements had been made for another €150,000, and the remaining €450,000 bill was in respect of an IDA site in Leopardstown.

In Monaghan, just over €1m is owed. In 2009, some 63pc of businesses paid, which has dropped to 59pc.

The council told the Local Government Auditor that the decline in the collection rate was "directly attributable" to the financial difficulties experienced by many companies, and that it was considering legal action.

"All accounts in arrears are being actively pursued with a number of files currently with the council's solicitors", it said.

Irish Independent

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