70,000 households could face €500 excess water bills
Charges of up to €500 a year for households using too much water have been approved, the Government has been told.
Irish Water proposed the charges earlier this year and the Cabinet was told last week that they have been accepted by the regulator, according to informed sources.
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As many as 70,000 householders deemed to be excessive users of water could be hit by the new charges.
Householders will be charged €1.85 for every 1,000 litres used above the threshold of 213,000 litres per year, with a cap of €250. Excess wastewater charges will also be capped at €250. Households using both fresh water and wastewater to excess will be charged €3.70 per 1,000 litres, but the charge will be capped at €500 a year.
The regulator is expected to announce its decision to introduce the fees as proposed by Irish Water in the coming weeks, sources said.
Irish Water plans to start writing to the worst offenders from the autumn, but won't bill them until the end of 2020 to give householders time to reduce their consumption. If their usage remains above the standard threshold six months after they receive a formal notification, the charges will kick in.
Households with more than four occupants can apply for an increase in their annual water allowance, and those with medical needs can apply for an exemption.
Irish Water suspects much of the excessive use will be caused by leaks, and the utility will be offering to fix the first leak for free, leaving customers liable for the rest.
Sources stressed the fees are aimed at conserving water rather than generating revenue. Irish Water submitted its proposal to the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities earlier this year. The regulator reached its decision following a public consultation process in April.
Around 68pc of Irish households are metered and Irish Water will analyse usage patterns from 2018 to determine which households to target. For homes that are not metered, Irish Water will focus on district water meters with a high usage, followed by a process of investigation to trace the offending households. Residents won't be charged right away, and instead will be offered a meter to help control water usage.
The fees for excessive usage come three years after water charges were suspended because of widespread public opposition to the charges, exacerbated by the high cost of setting up Irish Water.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail agreed to suspend the charges in government-formation talks following the 2016 general election and they were abolished in 2017 on the back of all-party Oireachtas committee that also said householders who paid should be refunded.
The limited reintroduction of fees is likely to attract criticism from groups opposed to water charges.
Sinn Fein attacked Irish Water's proposals to bill excess users as a back door to introducing water charges when Irish Water published its proposals earlier this year.
Eoin O Broin, the Sinn Fein TD, urged the Government not to introduce the charges, saying there was no evidence people were wilfully wasting water and blamed old, leaking infrastructure instead.