First water charge will be calculated on size of family home
You can't have a house with a single person next door to a family of six paying the same rates, insists Labour Party
The backlash against Irish Water will escalate further later this year when homeowners learn the size of their house -- rather than the number of people living there -- will initially determine how much water charges they pay.
In the wake of the controversy over the €180m set-up costs of Irish Water, the spotlight is now on how much will people pay when water charges come in later this year.
Ministers are extremely nervous about anomalies that will be thrown up by the new charging system.
Following the revelations about the €86m spend on consultants for Irish Water, the lack of public support for the water charges is also causing concerns.
Everybody is supposed to get a free allowance of water to cover basic requirements for washing, drinking and flushing the toilet.
Any water used above that amount will have to be paid for with families expected to face average bills of between €250 and €300 a year.
The size of the free allowance has yet to be determined. But most houses won't have meters in place when water charges begin.
Without a meter to show exactly how much water is being used, the bill will simply be assessed.
The general size of a home, regardless of the number of people living there, is expected to be the initial measure used to estimate the free allowance.
When meters come in, the numbers of people living in the house is then expected to become the measure by which the free allowance is allocated.
Families are then set to be asked to declare how many people live in their house to get their free allowance.
The Government is also examining a cap on the amount of water charges large families will have to pay.
A discounted rate for people with medical needs, for any use above their free allowance, is also being examined. Irish Water is understood to want to introduce a free allowance system that is easy to administer.
The company wants the allowance to be allocated based on the size of the house, which gives a general estimate of the number of people living there.
But ministers are aware this would throw up all sorts of anomalies and would be regarded as unfair.
However, an assessed charge, which will be introduced for houses that don't yet have meters when water charges come in this October will be based on the "general size of the house".
The workings of the system are currently being thrashed out with an initial cross-department report expected back next month.
The Labour Party is adamant the free allowance has to be based on the number of people living in the house.
"Our view is there should be a free allowance and one a family can aspire to get by on. It will have to reflect the population of the house. You can't have a house with a single person and the house next door with a family of six and both getting the same allowance," a senior party source said.
Fine Gael ministers are also saying there has to be "support for families and people with medical conditions".
"Affordability measures will have to go into the system with the free allowance," a party source said.
Meanwhile, some ministers viewed Environment Minister Phil Hogan's unfazed behaviour this week as a sign that he is heading to become Ireland's European Commissioner. "He couldn't give a s*** about the controversy. He's off to Europe," one minister told the Sunday Independent.
But government sources said there have been no talks between Fine Gael and the Labour Party about the European Commission post.
"When the time comes, there'll be plenty more looking for it. It's no demotion," a source close to Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, dismissing the idea Mr Hogan getting the plum job would mean he was being dispatched to Europe to get him off the domestic scene.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is another regarded as fancying the European Commission position. But Labour is also concerned that going for the European Commission post would result in a concession elsewhere in the cabinet reshuffle.
"My understanding is that has not been discussed. He'd want it but are we prepared to gift them something else in return," a party source said.
FIONNAN SHEAHAN Group Political Editor