1.5m bills to be sent despite Irish Water deal
Company to demand payment until change in law confirms suspension
Irish Water will send bills demanding payment to more than 750,000 customers over the next three weeks - even though water charges are suspended until at least early 2017.
In a move which will infuriate households, the utility is sending bills for the first three months of the year - despite Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil last week agreeing to suspend bills.
The political deal means that there will be a freeze on charges until an independent commission reports on the best way to fund water services.
However, the utility is legally obliged to continue charging for water until new legislation, over-turning or suspending the charges, is enacted.
Even after a government is formed, it is likely to take another six weeks until charges can be suspended, it emerged last night.
In the meantime, the bills are being sent at a cost of more than €800,000, and Irish Water insists that householders should still pay them.
The bills cover water consumption and wastewater treatment for January, February and March this year, and are sent over a 41-day billing cycle.
Some 750,000 have been sent bills in the past 19 working days, and a similar number will be sent over the next 22 days, a spokeswoman confirmed.
This means that more than 1.52 million bills are in the process of being sent.
"We are just under halfway through the billing cycle, and have sent 750,000 bills so far," a spokeswoman said. "With no change in legislation we are legally obliged to continue billing and customers are legally obliged to pay."
One householder told the Irish Independent that they had paid every water bill so far.
But now they were reluctant as there was no guarantee their money would be repaid if charges are scrapped.
"I'm afraid I won't get it back," they said. "I can't understand it. Getting bills is going to inflame more people.
"I've paid my bills to date, and I'm annoyed that nothing is going to happen to people who haven't paid them. I'm piggy in the middle."
Under the Water Services (No 2) Act 2013, Irish Water is obliged to charge households for the provision of water services since January last year.
The most recent figures show that 61pc of registered customers, or almost 930,000, have paid some or all of their bills.
Updated figures on payment rates will be available in the coming weeks when the current billing cycle is complete, Irish Water said.
But it insisted it had no information on the number of customers who had cancelled direct debits.
Suspending the charges will require a change to the law, but it will only operate prospectively - meaning that households will have to pay bills levied up to the point of suspension.
The bills are sent to registered customers of Irish Water, and to households which refused to register as well.
Each paper bill costs 61 cent to send - 10 cent is made up of printing costs, and 51 cent in postage. Around 10pc - or 150,000 - are sent electronically. That means the remainder will cost around €820,000 to send.
The utility said it was legally obliged to send the bills, despite Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil last week agreeing to suspend the charges for at least nine months as part of a deal to facilitate a minority government.
An independent commission to examine the best model of funding water services has yet to be established, and is not due to report back until next year.
Irish Water said it would continue to ask non-paying customers to pay their bills, as the charge was a legal debt.
Once the amounts owed exceeded €500, it could pursue payments in the courts under the Civil Debt (Procedures) Act 2015, which has yet to be enacted.