Tuesday 20 February 2018

Water charges: Households to escape water charges for three more years

Treacy Hogan

HOUSEHOLDERS have escaped paying for tap water based on the amount they use for at least another three years.

The Government yesterday backed off imposing fixed annual flat-rate charges until water meters are installed in the country’s 1.2 million homes.

The National Recovery Plan set a new target of 2014 for the meters to be installed and the charges to kick in.

Environment Minister John Gormley had pledged domestic water charges would be in place by 2012.

But the charges could be delayed even longer than 2014, based on the huge difficulties with bringing in meters for commercial water charges and chasing defaulters, as revealed recently in the Irish Independent.

If, however, the 2014 deadline is met, each person will be given a free allowance of 40 litres a day.

Above that limit, they will pay for every litre of water they use. The bigger the amount they consume, the larger the monthly bill.

The ‘pay-per-usage’ scheme being introduced is fairer than the flat annual rate that had been mooted.

It means that a person living alone, such as a widow, will not face the same large bill as a family with four young children, which typically use generous amounts of water for cooking, cleaning and washing.

Those who needlessly leave the tap running to take very long showers, or to over-water the garden, will be hit in the pocket.

Ireland is the only country in the OECD area not to levy domestic water charges.

However, the plan to install water meters in every home from next year in advance of domestic water charges in 2014 could run into trouble.

The difficulty in forcing businesses to pay their bills has cast doubt over the extension to domestic households.

Examinations of council finances by the local government auditor found that, despite repeated warnings, officials were not chasing businesses through the courts for unpaid bills.

The same collection system will be used by local authorities to make every household in the country pay for their water.

The auditor found problems in installing meters, with some councils saying they were unable to charge businesses that were based in terraces and office blocks.

This is because of difficulties in getting access to the plumbing or where there is a single supply catering for all businesses in the block.

The same problems will exist when installing meters catering for terraced houses and apartments.

The National Pension Reserve Fund agreed in principle to fund the €550m for the meters.

The cost of providing water services to households in 2008 was €590m. Contaminated

Charging for water will introduce a new revenue stream for cash-strapped local authorities for upgrading plants, fixing leaky pipes, cleaning up contaminated supplies and meeting EU directives.

The measure could lead to annual savings of up to €500m, the plan claims.

With people using less water in future because of the cost, there will be also less pressure on treatment plants.

A water regulator is being appointed to set the charges.

Irish Independent

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