News Charlie Weston

Saturday 20 September 2014

Water bills may push stressed family budgets over the edge

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

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EUREKA: When water charges come in, the free water allowance is expected to cover only the most basic of morning ablutions. Maybe it will be cheaper to turn off the tap and bathe in milk instead. Photo: Brian Farrell

WHATEVER shape the bills for water finally take, we know that most households will struggle to pay. Water charges will prove to be an imposition too far for many overstretched households.

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New research shows that half of households are forced to go into debt to pay their essential bills such as electricity and gas. Cash-strapped families are using credit cards, overdrafts and bank loans to meet household payments, the research commissioned by price comparison site uSwitch shows.

And large numbers of broke householders are dipping into savings or getting money from family and friends to make ends meet. And that is even before the water charge demands start coming through letter boxes.

Water charges will apply from October, with bills due to be paid by January.

The Cabinet spent much of last week arguing about the size of the bills, the amount of subvention Irish Water will get, the free allocation to be allowed for different family types, and the extent of the standing charge included in each bill.

Ministers were suddenly prompted into action, and forced to give up the cynical game of pretending they could not tell us what shape and size the bills would take, by the revelation that Irish Water wants standing charges to be a big element of each household's charge.

Irish Water wants the standing charge to represent 33 per cent of the overall cost.

It is now expected that the average household will end up paying around €250 a year, so around €80 would represent the standing charge if the semi-State gets its way.

The standing charge is designed to cover the cost of the meters, providing the supply and customer services. The latest indications are that the standing charge will be around €50 – still high, but less than Irish Water is seeking.

The free allowance to be given to householders will be the same in 2015 and 2016, meaning the bill should be same. But householders will still pay for every drop of water used beyond the most basic morning routine.

The free allowance of water is expected to only cover a shower, brushing your teeth and two toilet flushes for just one person.

Much of this could still change by October, but there are a few certainties. Ordinary working families, and the poor, will be hit hard by the new tax. Large numbers will either be unable to pay, or forced to go into debt to meet the payments. And water bills will rise over time.

It is all very well to argue that Ireland is the only country among the advanced economies that does not have water charges, but the simple fact is that most households will just not be able to afford a new charge.

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