Tuesday 16 January 2018

One in five households won't pay water charge bills, says regulator

The plans put to the public
The plans put to the public

Paul Melia, Environment Correspondent

One in five households are unlikely to pay their water charges when bills land next January, research from Irish Water shows.

The stark admission is contained in documents published by the regulator and which also show that the company wanted an assessed charge based on house size and occupancy to ensure fairness – a move shot down by the Government.

And the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has also proposed a series of rules for Irish Water whereby customers unable to drink water because a boil notice is in place will not be charged the full rate for their supply.

In addition, the company will be forced to pay customers €10 if they fail to give adequate notice of interruptions to supply, proposed date for meter installation and other service issues.

The proposed penalties are set out in papers published by the CER which will make a final decision on customer service levels and charges this summer.

Three public consultation processes are now open, with responses to be submitted by May 16 next. They relate to a proposed customer service charter, the structure of domestic water charges and how commercial water charges are decided.

The documents also confirm that Irish Water sought 33pc of the final bill to be made up of a standing charge – as revealed in Monday's Irish Independent.

It wants bills to comprise two elements – a standing charge, with the remainder of the bill to be based on consumption.

Acknowledging the standing charge is "high", it said it would help guarantee a revenue stream to operate the network and limit future increases to the consumption charges. If the charge was too low, and people reduced usage, the company could not operate the network using the available revenues.

Other key proposals from Irish Water and CER include:

* Customers who underpay their bills will only have to pay 12 months arrears, if they have a good payment history. Overpayments will be refunded.

* When customers paying the assessed charge move to a metered system, their bills should be capped for six to 12 months to encourage reductions in consumption.

* Information must be given to customers to help them find leaks. The first leak will be fixed free of charge by the company.

* A range of payment options will be offered, including through post offices, and a register of vulnerable people with medical needs should be compiled.

* A single, national tariff should be brought into effect, with charges split between drinking water supply and wastewater.

Irish Water also suggests that customers hit with boil water notices because of quality issues should receive a discount on their bills of 15pc.

This is because some 15pc of water is used for drinking and food preparation, with the remainder suitable for washing and other uses despite water restrictions being in place.

The proposed customer care measures will apply until the end of 2015. From January 2016, specific customer requirements will be highlighted in separate codes of practice dealing with communication, metering, billing, vulnerable customers and complaint handling.

But research conducted by the company suggests it will have a cohort of customers who do not intend paying their bills.

Some 20pc of 1,000 people surveyed did not intend to pay, or were undecided.

The poll was conducted last December, and the most common reason 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.

Some 40pc of all treated water is wasted through leakage, and opponents of charges have said that money should be invested in repairs instead of installing meters.

There has been a fall in numbers saying they would not pay. In 2012, a similar survey found 30pc were unlikely to pay.

Irish Independent

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