A TWO-tier water charges system - aimed at distinguishing between larger households and those with just a single adult occupant - is to be put in place until at least 2017.
The move will see a special lower fixed rate extended to groups such as widows, single workers and lone parents who make up just under a third of households in the State.
And a higher fixed charge, believed still to be in the region of €280 to €300, will apply to all other households for a period of a minimum of two years.
However, this rate would apply before an anticipated €100 support measure is granted.
The new approach to water charges emerged following intensive negotiations by the Government's Economic Management Council (EMC).
Sources within Fine Gael and Labour both confirmed last night that the two-tier model was close to being agreed - but said the exact rates would be ironed out in the coming days.
The tier system was designed to ensure no single person faced the same bill as an average family, government figures said.
According to information detailed in the Dail by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, 30pc of households are occupied by just one adult. Almost half of households (49pc) are occupied by two adults, while 13pc of households are occupied by three adults. It was yesterday reported that single adult households will see their annual bills capped at around €80 after their water support payments are taken into account.
However, Government sources have described this figure as "too low" and much of the work so far has focussed on the rate set to be applied to households with at least two adults.
Sources said that a claim by Tanaiste Joan Burton, that these households would face bills of about €200 after their support payments were deducted, still applies.
And, as revealed in the Irish Independent last week, a series of measures are being devised aimed at penalising those who refuse to pay their bills.
The Government intends to target people's salaries and social welfare payments.
The news comes as a senior minister warned against any further violence at protests against water meters.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the Government was listening to people's concerns but that any intimidation would not be tolerated.
"The people who did go out and protest in their very big numbers sent the Government a message," he said.
"And we've got that message, and we hear it, and we are going to make some changes to the water charges regime in the next week or so.
"But there is no place, in my view, in a democratic society, for intimidation or bullying or violence."
Mr Varadkar's Cabinet colleague, Alex White, yesterday refused to rule out the prospect of holding a referendum on the public ownership of Irish Water.
Speaking on RTE's 'This Week in Politics', the Communications Minister said a referendum was a 'reasonable suggestion' but admitted that he was not sure if it would work.
"[A referendum] is a reasonable suggestion, but I think we need to do a lot more work on it," he said.
"I think we've had a bad experience in this country in terms of putting stuff into the Constitution that we thought meant one thing and it turns out it meant something else."