Friday 28 October 2016

A six-month saga engaging with Irish Water's 'first fix free' deal

Seeing them try to fix a leak makes you wonder how they will handle the big stuff, writes Willie Kealy

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

DUCK AND LEAK SOUP: Willie Kealy displays the water leak which has become a home for his duck
DUCK AND LEAK SOUP: Willie Kealy displays the water leak which has become a home for his duck

Six months ago, in March, I noticed that a patch of overgrown ground beside my house looked very damp. I noticed it because it had not been raining for a couple of days and yet, the ground was still wet. So I dug a hole, which quickly filled up with water.

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I turned off the water at the meter and emptied the hole with a bucket and it stayed empty. So I turned the water back on and the hole quickly filled up again. Thus, I was able to establish that the leak was from the main public water supply pipe, somewhere in a relatively small area outside the house, but on my property.

Given that I had registered my existence as a consumer from the public water supply, I rang up to report the leak. And thus, I entered the surreal world of Irish Water.

The first person I spoke to at first suggested that maybe I should fix it myself. I mentioned "first fix free" and while he didn't actually say these words, the tone of his reply was very much one of, 'Oh you know about that, do you?'

Anyway, turns out I am not the person, or more correctly the entity, to report the leak. That is the job of the water meter. It will notice the leak and alert Irish Water. Only then will they act. And the water meter had not noticed mine, so therefore, officially, I did not have a leak. The large water-filled hole was perhaps a mirage.

"So what can I do?", I asked. Wait for the water meter to notice it and then it will tell us and then we will act.

In April, I rang up again and mentioned that this was not my first call. I was told there was no record of my first call, so I went through the whole process again and settled down to wait once more.

In May, I must have been busy or lazy because I didn't call Irish Water again till June, when I was told that there was no record of my call in April, so I got to go back to the starting point again.

In July, when I rang again, I at last made some progress - I was given a reference number. Now my leak had its own little identity. And it would be inspected by someone who could make a judgment call as to what to do about it, if anything.

"When might that be?" I inquired.

"Hard to say," was basically the answer, "but as soon as possible."

I asked if it would be days or weeks or months?

"Oh, certainly not months."

"Weeks, then?" I asked.


"In a week or two perhaps?"


I realised "hopefully" constituted as much of a commitment as I could expect.

A short while later, the person I had spoken to rang back and he seemed to have a new sense of urgency. Someone would be out pretty quickly, he said, and he was right. The very next day, a man from the local authority came out, inspected the site and confirmed what I had reported initially, except he could see it was now a small stream running against the back wall of the house and down a shore.

But then I heard no more.

Then, on Monday week last, I rang again, and after a little checking, the lady I was speaking to said there did not seem to be any sign of the letter from the man who inspected the leak, recommending further action. And until they got that… Anyway, I shouldn't worry, because very soon I would get a letter from Irish Water - definitely within three or four days.

Last Monday, when a week had elapsed and there was still no letter, I rang up again and a woman told me that it wasn't possible to say why I had not received a letter, but she would look into it and get back to me very quickly - before 2pm actually, because that was when she finished up for the day.

Well, 2pm came and went and she didn't ring me. But the next morning a letter arrived from Irish Water. It said: "Your water-meter reading indicates a possible leak."

'Really Sherlock?' I thought. This is what I have waited for all this time? Then, the letter invited me to "please contact us to request a free leak investigation survey" - but only after I had carried out a number of internal checks to make sure the leak in the yard wasn't actually inside the house.

So, on Tuesday, I rang Irish Water again. Feeling like a time traveller, I was back at the beginning when the lady who answered said she would have to get on to the billing department to make sure I was registered with Irish Water - so much for my leak's own personal reference number.

When she was sure I was indeed registered, she directed me to a booklet that accompanied the letter. Page five to be precise: the page with the checks to make sure the leak is not inside the house. I've done all that. It's not in the house, it's in the yard. You've had someone out to inspect it.

"Hold on," she says. "I have to go through these checks... Now open your booklet on page five. Is there a consistent sound of water running from the toilet cistern?" No.

"Can you hear the storage tank refilling when water consuming appliances are not in use?" No.

"Check all the household and external garden taps for drips." I have, there aren't any.

"Check water-consuming appliances, like washing machines and dishwasher, for plumbing issues such as dripping joints." I have, there aren't any.

"Okay," she said. Now we will get onto the contractor and something will happen, but she was talking so fast and in such a Stepford manner with a high-pitched voice, and maybe not the best phone line ever, it was hard to tell what.

And like all of her other colleagues with whom I spoke, she was maddeningly polite, maybe because all my conversations with Irish Water personnel were recorded -except the first two in March and April, because there is no record of those reports.

According to Irish Water's figures, at the end of June, 46,000 of their installed meters had indicated a leak on a customer's property and they expect that to rise to 70,000 households. To date, Irish Water says it has contacted over 23,000 customers offering a free leak investigation. What they cannot yet say is how many, if any, have been fixed.

I don't want to see water charges abolished. And if I ever get my leak fixed and the back wall of the house gets a chance to dry out before the winter sets in, I might even pay them. But if something as simple as fixing a leak - and in the process, conserving thousands of gallons of water - proves such a challenge, you can only assume Irish Water will fail completely when it comes to the big stuff.

Sunday Independent

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