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Irish Water's call centre staff face vetting by gardai

ALL call centre staff in Irish Water will be garda vetted before taking up their new jobs.

The Irish Independent has learnt that Cork company Abtran has won the contract to provide a customer care service for the water company, but a condition of the contract is that staff undergo rigorous vetting before they get access to sensitive financial data.

It comes after an Abtran employee was suspended last month amid suspicious that he illegally obtained credit-card details of homeowners paying the property tax.

Abtran has the contract to run the Revenue Commissioner's helpline, and the matter came to light when a Revenue staff member rang to query an issue relating to their own property tax application and was astounded to be asked for credit-card details.

Sources close to Irish Water confirmed that despite the controversy, which involved just one Abtran employee, the company had been awarded the contract to operate a call centre from this summer.

"The procurement process took longer than expected because of the Revenue Commissioner's account," the source said.

"From our point of view it happened, and we looked at it in detail. Irish Water sought an incident report, which included timelines to identify what happened and the actions Abtran took after it was identified.

LESSONS

"Irish Water wanted to find out the lessons that could be learnt, and have measures and procedures put in place to make sure management of Irish Water accounts would be stringent and robust.

"There has been a full review of Abtran's recruitment process, and all employees working on Irish Water will be garda vetted and training will be reviewed. We've implemented safeguards."

The contract would be the "most stringent" that Abtran had signed to date, they added, with procedures in place to guarantee security for 1.6 million Irish Water customers who will be billed for their water usage from next year.

Customers will have the option of paying bills by credit or debit card, or through direct debit, meaning up to 400 call centre staff will have access to sensitive financial information.

The first 100 staff will begin working from the middle of July as water meters are rolled-out at the rate of 27,000 a month. The Government has said it is in negotiations with the troika about sending the first bills from January 2015 – a year later than expected – with charges backed to October next year.

Sources said that Irish Water was "satisfied" with appointing Abtran, as it had a good reputation over 16 years in business.

The company refused to comment, saying an announcement would be made in the coming weeks.

Irish Independent