'Use it or lose it' plans for water allowances spark hygiene fears
HOUSEHOLDERS face the prospect of losing substantial amounts of their 'free' water allowance under plans proposed by Irish Water.
The company wants the allowance to be allocated on a daily basis, with no carryover permitted, meaning that customers must effectively "use it or lose it".
The move has prompted serious concerns about public health and safety from the HSE, which has told the Department of the Environment that it will impact on vulnerable families.
Chair of the HSE Drinking Water committee, Dr Una Fallon, told the Irish Independent that it could result in people not washing their hands or using appliances because they had used their daily allowance, and feared being charged.
"Irish Water said they would favour a daily allowance, with no carryover allowed," she said. "From the point of view of families, that could mean holding off using the washing machine or other uses until after midnight.
"Hand washing and hygiene protects against a range of infectious diseases. Most members of the population would see that as unreasonable, not to have a carryover."
The measure was proposed by Irish Water in a submission to regulator the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).
It says: "Our preference would be for any allowance to be granted in terms of free litres equivalent of water services per day with no carryover permitted, and price points set as to provide recovery of revenue requirement after the allowance."
The annual allocation of free water per household will be 30,000 litres, or 82 litres a day. Each child under 18 will receive an additional amount of up to 38,000 litres a year.
Dr Fallon said a flat-rate household charge would be preferable, as family size varied depending on circumstances. A relation could come and stay for a number of months, while somebody waiting to be allocated social housing could remain with relatives until they received a home.
An outbreak of a nasty bug such as gastroenteritis could result in more water being used outside the allowance, and in addition, families could delay discharging elderly relatives from nursing homes due to fears of facing high water bills, which would result in higher spending for the Exchequer.
The Department of the Environment said nothing had been decided in the context of the free allowance. The CER would decide the issue, it said.
It was confirmed yesterday by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that Irish Water is to be taken out of the control of the Department of Environment, which is now run by Labour's Alan Kelly, and brought under the auspices of Michael Noonan's Department of Finance.
The HSE has also raised concerns about Irish Water's plan to charge for wastewater services based on the amount of drinking water consumed, because it could result in families or businesses digging wells to avoid charges.
"The method of charging for wastewater services may provide a perverse incentive for customers to reduce their usage of water by shifting to use of private water sources, which may increase risk to public health," it said in its submission.
"This is very important," Dr Fallon said. "Siting, drilling and maintaining a well takes a lot of expertise, and we have plenty of examples of people falling ill."
Irish Water said it noted the position of the HSE on the issue, adding the allocation of the free allowance was a matter for the CER and was being assessed.