Irish Water will not get the power to disconnect supplies
HOUSEHOLDERS who refuse to pay their water charges will not be cut off and will have to be taken to court to secure payment.
The Government has decided that Irish Water will not be allowed to disconnect homes, and will instead have to take legal action against those who refuse to pay bills.
The decision could lead to difficulties for the commercial semi-state which is expected to collect around €500m a year from domestic customers from January 2015.
Difficulties arise because other utilities such as Bord Gais and ESB can disconnect supplies for non-payment, but Irish Water will not have the powers.
The details are contained in the Water Services Bill, published last night.
It says that bills will be based on a "water charges plan", to be submitted to independent regulator the Commission for Energy Regulator (CER) next year.
While Irish Water will have the power to reduce the supply, meaning that appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers cannot be used, it cannot disconnect customers.
"Irish Water shall not, by reason of a charge in respect of a dwelling being wholly or partly unpaid, discontinue the supply of water to that dwelling either temporarily or perman- ently," the bill says.
"Where a customer fails to pay a charge . . . it shall be recoverable by Irish Water as a simple contract debt in any court of competent jurisdiction."
While the legislation does not allow for fines to be imposed by the courts for non-payment, the company has a number of options to secure payment.
If a court orders that the money is paid, and it is not, then Irish Water can seek an attachment order, where the unpaid bill is taken directly from earnings or social welfare payments.
It can also ask that the charge is registered against the property, meaning the home cannot be sold until the money is paid, or they can seek the person's commital to jail for non-payment.
It is understood that in these cases, the homeowner would still be liable for the unpaid debt upon release from prison.
The Department of the Environment said disconnections were not allowed because access to water was considered a basic human right.
A spokesman said the treatment of low-income families and people with medical conditions would be considered by Government before charges were introduced.
The amount of 'free' water to be provided to families, before charges were levied, had yet to be decided.
Irish Water said it was "reviewing" the proposed legislation before commenting.
The Water Services (No 2) Bill, published yesterday, sets out the role that commercial semi-state company Irish Water will have in delivering water services to more than 1.35 million households. It will be introduced to the Seanad on Wednesday, and the Government hopes to have it passed into law before Christmas.
The junior minister at the Department of the Environment, Fergus O'Dowd, said the transfer of powers to Irish Water was part of a "fundamental reform" of water services.
He added it would help guarantee a supply for communities and help attract water- intensive industries including ICT (information and communications technology) and pharma-chem companies.