Irish Water to deal with customer disputes 'in house'
DISPUTES between Irish Water and its customers will only be dealt with on a legal basis after charges are introduced in October, the Irish Independent has learned.
Customers who find themselves at loggerheads with the utility company will only have access to a "voluntary" dispute resolution process, to be overseen by Irish Water – the company at the centre of customer complaints.
But the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which is the water regulator, says it will put in place measures to "secure the interests" of customers following consultation with the Department of the Environment. Currently, it must approve a code of practice from Irish Water in dealing with customer complaints, which will be administered on a voluntary basis.
"It is the CER's intention that a voluntary dispute resolution process will be put in place prior to introduction of domestic water charges in October 2014 as an interim measure," it said.
"The CER will liaise with the department to put in place a statutory underpinning for this dispute resolution process in forthcoming additional legislation for the water services sector."
The comments came in a response to a public consultation on how the sector will be regulated. The 'Economic Regulatory Framework for the Public Water Services Sector in Ireland' highlights concerns from employers, businesses and state agencies including the IDA, Forfas and Enterprise Ireland, which made a joint submission.
It warns against keeping prices "as low as possible today. Keeping prices artificially low in the short term means that the investment required to meet future needs will not be made, which will lead to shortages/ capacity constraints and higher prices, lower quality services," it says.
It said the free water allowance would ultimately be added to customer bills, and should be kept as low as possible.
IBEC said that domestic customers and not business should pay the cost of installing meters, and bear the cost of bad debts from non-paying customers.
Dublin City Council also said that the cost of operating the water network has been higher under Irish Water, which will "reduce in time" as its learns more about the network.
Intel said arrangements with "large water users" struck with local authorities should remain in place.