MORE than 20 businesses including a farm and hotel will have their water supply cut off next week after refusing to pay bills of up to €42,000.
Clare County Council will take the unprecedented step of disconnecting businesses in Ennis and Shannon because customers have refused to make any effort to pay outstanding debts, which are more than four years owing in some cases.
And the disconnections will be the first of many, a council spokesman warned.
The local authority has about 400 customers obliged to pay water charges, and two dozen will be cut off under the get-tough regime from next week.
Local authorities across the State are owed a total of €124m in unpaid bills, despite promising a 'get tough' approach more than two years ago when €90m in charges was outstanding
The level of arrears is significant because the Government plans to introduce domestic charging by 2014. If councils cannot be paid by businesses and state agencies, collecting from households could prove difficult.
The disconnections in Clare relate to the non-payment of water charges that date back as far as August 2007. The outstanding bills range from €600 to €42,000, and the businesses affected include a hotel, hairdresser, pub, farm, butcher and service station.
Each has received between four and six payment reminders, along with visits from Clare County Council personnel.
"They're not paying," a spokesman said.
"Whether they can't or won't, they haven't," he added.
"Final warnings were issued this week. Disconnections will be taking place, it's not a loose threat. But the council is happy to facilitate a payment plan for any customer that has fallen behind."
Water charges across the country's 34 local authority areas are based on the volume of water provided to non-domestic premises. The charges are generally based on consumption where a meter has been installed.
Clare County Council collects 32pc of all charges compared with a national average collection rate of 54pc. The last available figures show it is owed €9.8m.
The County and City Managers' Association said 584 businesses were disconnected in 2010, and that bills were often settled at the last minute when a crew arrived to disconnect.