Saturday 17 August 2019

New water charge to punish ordinary people, warns Sinn Fein

Irish Water plans to introduce a 500 euro a year charge for excessive use.

The charge of 500 euro a year has been approved (PA)
The charge of 500 euro a year has been approved (PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The Government’s new water charge may lead to individual meters, Sinn Fein has warned.

Irish Water’s proposal to introduce a 500 euro a year charge for excessive use of water was approved by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) on Wednesday.

Once excess usage is flagged, the commission says households will have 12 months to address any possible leaks and usage activity before they receive a bill.

Sinn Fein housing spokesman Eoin O Broin said on Thursday that renters, pensioners and homeowners in badly built houses will be hit by the charges.

“This charge has nothing to do with conservation and it’s not going to deal with the issue of wilful waste,” he said.

“It’s going to end up punishing people who have leaks through no fault of their own, who don’t have the means to rectify that – whether it’s someone who bought a shoddily built home during the Celtic Tiger or older people with low pensions living in old properties around the country.

“Most tenants have agreements which makes them liable for certain charges, so if you’re in an older property with a leak, there’s no incentive for the landlord to do anything about the 500 euro fine.

“The losers are going to be ordinary people.

“It’s also going to cost more money to administer than it’s going to raise, which begs the question why you would do it in the first place.

“The reason Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have concocted this is because it leaves in place the infrastructure for possible future introduction of water charges.”

Focus on addressing the leaks first, and after that if there are people unwilling to take up the assistance offered or wilfully wasting water, then there is already legislation to fine those people Eoin O Broin

Sinn Fein suggests that instead of the charge, the Government along with Irish Water should have a greater focus on assisting people to address leaks within their own properties through district meters, not individual meters, similar to the process used in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“Focus on addressing the leaks first, and after that if there are people unwilling to take up the assistance offered or wilfully wasting water, then there is already legislation to fine those people,” Mr O Broin added.

“We proposed this at committee, Fianna Fail were going to agree, but then Simon Coveney threatened a general election and Fianna Fail backed down.”

Water charges were to be introduced in Ireland in January 2015 to much uproar and mass protests, before the Government eventually suspended the proposal, setting up an “expert panel” to find a solution to the issue.

The threshold figure was set in legislation in December 2017 at 213,000 litres per year, 583 litres per day per household.

Figures show the average water usage for a four-person household in Ireland is around 125,000 litres a year.

According to the CRU, between 7% and 10% of domestic metered households use more than the annual allowance.

Irish Water insists the charges are aimed at encouraging conservation.

A survey conducted by Behaviours and Attitudes for Irish Water found 52% of people admit they waste water and 25% believe they do not need to conserve water because of the level of rainfall in Ireland.

The supplier launched a conservation campaign on Wednesday encouraging people to be mindful of the amount of water they use because of the economic and environmental cost of providing safe, clean drinking water.

Irish Water head of asset management Sean Laffey said: “Bad storms followed by the prolonged drought last year really showed people that safe, clean, treated water is not in unlimited supply and that we all have to play a part in conserving it.

“It is easy to lose focus on how precious water is. This is despite the fact that the financial and environmental impact of treating and providing drinking water does not decrease as rainfall increases.

“We are encouraging everyone to play their part and use only what they need.”

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