Monday 11 December 2017

Everything you need to know: The Dummies guide to water charges

Where the water goes on a daily basis. Picture: Irish Independent Graphics
Where the water goes on a daily basis. Picture: Irish Independent Graphics
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A deal has been reached on water charges that should see 92 per cent of households pay nothing for water. Here is everything you need to know about refunds, meters and group water schemes:

Dummies guide to...Refunds

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Stock picture: James Connolly / PicSell8

Almost one million households will be entitled to refunds, but it's likely to be several months before you get your money back.

The committee agreed that the Department of Housing should investigate the "most cost-efficient mechanism of adhering to the principle of equity of treatment for those who have paid and have not paid water charges".

One of the big questions facing Housing Minister Simon Coveney is how to factor in the €100 water conservation grant that was paid to many, but not all households.

The water report states the grant should be taken into "consideration" when deciding on how to operate a refund scheme.

It's expected Irish Water will be charged with administering the refunds, but this could add to its overheads.

The utility contracted a private firm, called Abtran, to handle customer queries regarding domestic bills but its work has been scaled down over the past 12 months.

Some of the outstanding questions relating to refunds are:

  • Around 20pc of customers paid through direct debit - how do you find and identify those who paid in cash through post offices, online, etc?
  • What about people who moved house? Or those who used to share (do you pay Mary or Maureen the refund?), and what about landlords?
  • Will the €162.5m be made up to Irish Water?
  • What about those who took the grant but didn't pay? Do you reclaim it?

Dummies guide to....Meters

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Bulk metering will be installed for multi-unit developments such as apartment blocks. Stock picture

Given the controversy over the metering programme, it might surprise some people to learn that 58pc of the country's 1.52 million households already have meters.

Some of the most contentious debates at the water committee related to whether the Irish Water metering programme will continue.

It will not - but building regulations are to be changed in order to force developers to install meters outside all newly built houses and dwellings that undergo substantial refurbishment.

The report says meters should be in place "so that the amount of household water consumption is clear to users and as a means of effective leak detection and conservation".

Bulk metering will be installed for multi-unit developments such as apartment blocks.

The Government will also consider how best to incentivise voluntary take-up of meters.

Dummies guide to....The role of Irish Water

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Housing Minister Simon Coveney must now begin work on issuing refunds to one million law-abiding households who had paid money to Irish Water. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Despite the end of water charges, Irish Water will continue to operate.

Its funding will now come from general taxation, with the Government required to factor this into the annual budget.

The utility won't send out any bills, but will still operate a 'first fix free' service for householders who identify leaks.

Engineers will be responsible for upgrading the water network.

The committee has recommended Irish Water's current commercial loan facility be reviewed and replaced, where possible, with State lending facilities by arrangement with the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA).

On foot of the water report, the Government must begin putting steps in place to hold a referendum asking voters if they want public ownership be enshrined in the Constitution.

Dummies Guide to....Group Water Schemes

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Under a section headed 'Equity and Fairness', the report makes special reference to Group Water Schemes.

It says "the principles of equity of treatment and equivalent financial support should be applied equally between households on public water supplies and those in Group Water Schemes (GWS), Group Sewerage Schemes (GSS), those using Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems (DWWTS) and Individual Domestic Water Supplies (IDWS)".

The Department of Housing is to conduct a review, in co-ordination with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes and other relevant stakeholders, to quantify what additional investment will be required to equalise treatment between those availing of domestic water services and those availing of private services.

The committee recommends that, following this review, identified investment should be provided.

Households that received the water conservation grant are likely to be allowed keep the money.

Dummies guide to... EU law

Some experts have warned that the recommendations in the report may not be enough to satisfy the European Commission that Ireland takes water conservation seriously.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney will lean heavily on the Attorney General while compiling legislation to give effect to the measures put forward by the committee.

The report cites a number of key initiatives that the committee's legal advisers said should help ensure Ireland is not subjected to massive EU fines.

The Government must outline "funding certainty and long-term stability" for Irish Water in order to comply with the EU's Water Framework Directive. All money given to the utility "must be clearly identifiable within existing taxation to meet the cost of domestic water services".

The key test will be whether the EU accepts that the application of "levies" for "excess use of water in order to dissuade users from wastage" is enough to argue that the 'polluter pays principle' is in place.

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