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Monday 1 September 2014

Water users who don't register face higher bills

Paul Melia Environment Correspondent

Published 17/03/2014 | 02:30

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Customers who don't register with Irish Water face higher bills

Homeowners who don't voluntarily supply their details to Irish Water risk losing the 'free' water allowance.

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Some 1.35 million households will be "invited" to register with the company from this summer, and those who refuse can expect to pay higher bills, the Irish Independent has learned.

This is because the Government is considering penalising people who don't sign up and provide billing details to the utility company, including name, address and preferred method of payment.

It will award a free amount of water to each person living in the property, after which they will be expected to pay a charge based on consumption.

A source said there was a possibility that "to avail of the free allowance, you will have to register".

"You will have to identify how many people will be in the house. The free allowance will more likely be a per-person allowance (rather than based on house size), with additional amounts for families."

Irish Water has expressed concern that customers may not register, but says it is building a computer system with the capability to bill unregistered customers.

The prospect of people not registering is considered "likely".

Databases holding information such as household charge compliance and connection to utilities including Bord Gais and the ESB will be used to identify houses that haven't registered.

Internal company documents show it plans to begin a public registration campaign in the coming months, in advance of charges coming into force from October. The first bills will be issued next January.

"Irish Water will approach the domestic registration process through inviting customers to confirm their details," the documents state.

The semi-state company plans to "actively communicate" with customers to explain the services it will offer; provide a "consistent, professional experience"; and will "initially focus" on providing clean drinking water and waste water services.

"The benefits of achieving this vision for the customer is that through understanding Irish Water services and fees, and experiencing consistent and professional customer service, they will value Irish Water's service," it adds.

The company should also be in a position to issue "welcome packs" to all customers.

Charges were expected to come into force from last January, but had been deferred until the autumn following agreement with the troika.

However, Irish Water has the systems in place to begin billing and take queries from the public. All customer service functions are expected to transfer to Irish Water from next month, where households or businesses will no longer contact their local authority in the event of a problem, but Irish Water directly.

The Government is expected to decide the level of the free allowance in the coming weeks, along with specific measures for low-income households and people with medical needs.

Larger families with three or more children and pensioners are expected to have their bills capped, either by limiting the size of the annual charge or by receiving a higher 'free' allowance.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has warned that families and householders will end up paying the cost of the free water because it will be passed on to customers in the form of higher charges for the water they end up using and paying for.

It has also warned that plans for the free allowance could result in owners of holiday homes escaping charges, because they could bank the unused water allowance for periods when they did not use the property, resulting in little or no bills.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised householders they will get some information on the amount of water charges they will pay in advance of May's local elections.

Irish Independent

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