Promised children’s free water allowance to be cut
Published 28/06/2014 | 02:30
Families will receive a smaller free water allowance for each child than has been promised by the Government.
The Irish Independent has learnt that the allowance will not be the 104 litres per day flagged by ministers before the local and European elections.
Irish Water research suggests that children are using less water than previously forecast.
However, officials are refusing to say what the difference is.
The 104 litres daily – which works out at 38,000 litres a year – was reported as being the free children’s allowance after details of the charging structure were announced last month.
The reduced allowance will affect more than 1.1 million children in the State aged 17 or under.
However, the Government last night insisted it remained committed to providing free water to every child, which would be achieved despite any reduction in the free allowance.
“It was always the intention that it would be up to 38,000 litres, subject to verification from metering, and that remains the intention. Children will go free. That was always the Government’s commitment.
“The position has always been that the free allowance for each child would be up to 38,000 litres and this was reflected in our press release of May 6 on the announcement on the average charge and free allowances.
Last night’s statement contradicts Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s assertion in the Dail early last month that children “are to be given a 38,000-litre allocation” which would help reduce bills.
A total 1.35 million families will be hit with charges from next October, with ‘average’ bills expected to be €240 per family which will fall due early next year.
Homes with meters installed will pay based on recorded consumption. Those without, including people living in apartments, will pay an assessed charge, based on average consumption of a similarly-sized family.
The Department of the Environment estimated that annual usage was 150 litres per person per day. A child’s usage was put at 104 litres, which resulted in the proposed 38,000 free allocation.
However, Irish Water has been analysing data gleaned from meters already installed in homes and determined that a child’s consumption is less than previously believed.
The usage rates are crucial in determining how much families will pay when bills land next January.
The information will be used by the water regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), to determine the free allowance which will have a major bearing on family finances.
Around 1,650 households with meters fitted were asked how many people lived in the house, the number of bedrooms and architecture type, Irish Water said.
Using this data, the commercial semi-state calculated consumption per child. The company said there was a margin of error of less than 3pc, and that the information was sought voluntarily to help determine what the assessed charge would be.
The data is being checked and benchmarked for inclusion in a document to go to the CER, which will decide the level of charges and free allowance.
“The main purpose of the research is to ensure that the assessed tariff is a close proxy to the metered tariff.
“This data is currently being analysed and will ensure that the Government direction is implemented as intended,” Irish Water said.
The so-called Water Charges Plan will be submitted to the CER next Wednesday, and will be published by the CER after, it added.
But the reduced consumption rates means the commercial semi-state is expected to tell the regulator that the proposed free allowance is higher than needed, which is likely to result in some families being hit with higher bills.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Environment Minister Phil Hogan have all said that the allowance would help families to avoid crippling bills – and in effect that children would ‘go free’.
A free allowance of 30,000 litres of water per household remained unchanged, along with an allowance of “up to” 38,000 litres per child under 18 years of age, the Department of the Environment said.
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Water allowances: What they said
"It is also taken into account that children obviously bring with them costs and charges in the daily running of a household. The Government has recognised this by providing extra assistance in that children are to be given a 38,000-litre allocation, which effectively makes all children under the age of 18 years free."
Enda Kenny addressing Leaders' Questions in the Dail on May 6, the day that free water allowances were announced.
"In the case of children we are giving an additional 38,000 litres per child up to the age of 18 because we know how many children we have on child benefit, so therefore effectively children are free."
Environment Minister Phil Hogan speaking on RTE the same day.
"There will be a free allowance of 38,000 litres per child based on typical water consumption levels for children, so that households effectively will not pay for water consumed by children."
Mr Hogan, addressing a press conference on May 6.
"There will be no standing charge . . . households will, therefore, only pay for water use above 30,000 litres per annum. The level of free allowance will increase by an additional 38,000 litres for each child in the household, which, in essence, results in free water for children."
Junior Minister Fergus O'Dowd during a Dail debate on May 7.
"In introducing the charges we were very mindful to introduce them in a way that is fair and reasonable. There will be no fixed charge. There will be no standing charge. There will be a free household water allowance and an additional allowance of 38,000 litres for each child."
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