Households facing €240 water charge under coalition plan
HOUSEHOLDS will still pay an average of €240 a year in water charges under a plan signed off on by the Government, even though the standing charge has been scrapped and children will get a significant free allowance.
The Coalition ended a three-week dispute over concessions to be given to people on low incomes by agreeing a new compromise deal – which contains few changes of detail to the original deal tabled.
Labour insisted that it had achieved some important concessions and would now be explaining these on the doorsteps in the 16 days left to the local and European elections.
But the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, John McGuinness, castigated Irish Water and said it had turned into a "huge hungry elephant" that will cost the Irish taxpayer a fortune.
Charges kick in from October 1 next with the first quarterly bills to be issued in January 2015.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan said the price would be fixed for two years – but he could not guarantee what price would apply after 2016.
"That will be a matter for the government of the day," Mr Hogan said.
The Government has agreed there will be no fixed or standing charge for householders, but it will be up to the Energy Regulator to decide whether there will be such a standing charge for second homes or holiday homes.
People on low incomes such as pensioners, carers and people with disabilities are to get €100 towards their yearly water bills and people with an illness requiring high water usage will have their bills capped.
Homeowners generally will get a 30,000 litres per year allowance, which compares with the 140,000 litres used by the average household. And children under 18 will get a further 38,000 litres per year allowance, which the Govern- ment says will cover their water use.
Mr Hogan argued that the free allowance was "generous" and said it was structured to help large families, or single occupants. These two groups were identified in expert studies as needing special support.
However, Mr McGuinness accused the Government of trying to present Irish Water as a "fit, fast, lean prize-winning greyhound" while it would instead "spend an eternity as a pickpocket feeding off the Irish people".
Mr McGuinness said questions were already being asked about the roll-out of metering and he pointed to recent controversies surrounding consultancy spending and overstaffing.
But Mr Hogan strongly defended Irish Water as the best way to ensure safe, secure water supplies at a good price into the future.
Mr Hogan also confirmed a €200m fund for a "free first fix" scheme for leaks, and a speeded-up meter installation programme with 80pc of homes covered by the end of 2015, and virtually all done by mid-2016.
Labour has been in favour of speeding up the pace of metering in order to encourage people to save water, and save money.
Mr Hogan said an accelerated metering programme would see the meters installed in the middle of 2016 – some six months ahead of target.
Irish Water will also have to take into account poor quality of services – such as where "boil-water" warnings have to be applied.
Mr Hogan conceded that charges were another burden at a difficult time but he argued they were necessary to invest in a proper water service. He said 23,500 people were on boil-water notices and 40pc of the State's water supply was lost on leakage.