Monday 17 December 2018

One in five insist they will not pay their water bills

Research says 270,000 unlikely to pay charges

As billing for water services commenced last week, Irish Water is severely limited in its options to force people to pay.
As billing for water services commenced last week, Irish Water is severely limited in its options to force people to pay.

UP to 20pc of households are unlikely to pay their water charges, research carried out by Irish Water has found.

The survey — seen by the Sunday Independent — suggests as many as 270,000 eligible households are unlikely to pay the controversial charges when bills land next January.

This would leave the Government, which has said it will not cut off the water of those who don’t pay, in a nightmare scenario as their options to force people to pay are extremely limited.

The most common reason given for not paying was because respondents disagreed “in principle” with water charges, followed by affordability issues, poor water quality, a belief they were already paying for water, and water wastage through leaking pipes.

As billing for water services commenced last week, Irish Water is severely limited in its options to force people to pay.

Unlike other utilities such as Electric Ireland or Bord Gais, Irish Water will not have the power to cut off the supply to any home. The most it can do is restrict the supply to a “trickle”. It has emerged that there is no legal minimum flow that Irish Water must continue to supply to homes even in a restriction scenario, as where a house is located on a certain supply pipe would impact on the water pressure.

Read more: Irish Water: your rights to complain have gone

The Sunday Independent has learned it will only be possible to restrict supply to homes with individual water lines off the main network. This raises the scenario that apartment owners or homes on a shared supply, even if they refuse to pay, are unlikely to ever see their supply restricted.

Irish Water is adamant that moving to a restriction of supply is a “last resort” and that it would hope that the incentive of the allowances will be sufficient to encourage as great a level of compliance as possible.

A couple with two children who would pay €278 under the assessed charge system will be charged €630 a year if they do not sign up when metering charges begin next July. This is because those who fail to provide details will lose their free allowances and will be asked to pay the full cost of drinking and waste water services.

However, anti-water charges groups have been stepping up their calls for the public to defy Irish Water and not pay.

Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger, speaking in the Dail last week, called on the public not to pay the water charges, in a bid to get enough people to refuse to comply as to make the system unworkable.

Read more: Know your rights should you fall behind on water charges

An Irish Water spokeswoman said that like other utility companies, Irish Water would be able to bring those who refuse to engage with them to court, but accepted that it was only for debt recovery. She said they would seek to find workable solutions for those people struggling to pay, but Irish Water must try and protect those customers who play by the rules.

“Of course, for those who are finding it difficult to meet the bills, we will ask them to engage with us to find a solution that works for everyone. But, for those who won’t pay, we have a range of options to try to ensure compliance. But we have to ensure we protect those customers who pay on time,” said the Irish Water spokeswoman.

Irish Water said last week that landlords would not be held liable for arrears of water charges built up by their tenants. The utility firm said landlords would be sent application packs for their rental properties, which they must forward to the tenants.

In the case of an owner-occupier, the full allowances in relation to water usage are allocated in the normal way and the occupier is liable for the bill.

A spokeswoman explained that if the property was unoccupied, the landlord could claim unoccupied-dwelling status and pay a set charge. The level of this is still under consideration by the regulator. In this case the landlord is liable for the charge. However, in the case of a rented property, Irish Water said: “The tenant is liable for the charge and is also eligible for the allowances, as the property is the principal primary residence of that household.”

Read more: Water watchdog staff net almost €1m in bonuses

Yesterday it emerged that those refusing to register with Irish Water by the end of the month will be hit with bills that are likely to be twice as much as they would pay if they provided the information. There has been a fall in numbers saying they would not pay. In 2012, a similar survey found 30pc were unlikely to pay. Earlier this summer, it emerged that Irish Water had identified political interference and customers not paying as the two biggest threats to its viability.

History of charges

Water charges have haunted the political ‘to-do’ list since domestic rates were abolished in 1977. In the 1990s, an attempt was made to introduce water charges.

This failed after widespread public protest. Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins, then chairman of the Dublin Anti Water Charges Campaign, forced the abolition of water charges in Dublin in 1996.

The same year then Environment Minister Brendan Howlin announced the water charge was going to be replaced by a new system whereby the road tax collected in each area would be the source for council funding

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