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FG warning to Labour over water charges

THE Labour Party is being told by Fine Gael to find a way of providing low-income people with relief from water charges from the Social Protection Department's budget.

Labour wants greater assistance in paying the bills – set to be about €240 – for those on low incomes, including pensioners and those on social welfare benefits. However, Fine Gael figures say that if the junior coalition partner wants to provide additional relief, its own ministers will have to come up with the funds.

"The affordability measures will have to come through social welfare. Otherwise, it pushes up everybody else's bill," a Fine Gael source said.

Labour Minister Joan Burton's Social Protection Department did not want to introduce another payment as it was concerned about the creation of a new benefit that a family would lose if an unemployed worker got a job.

Ms Burton was among the most vocal of ministers at this week's cabinet meetings, seeking details on the water charges package before it was signed-off.

The details of the memo were contained in this newspaper the following morning, before Wednesday's special cabinet meeting on the controversial charges.


"In the light of the recommended approach to free allowance and tariff structure and likely level of average charge emerging from the funding proposals, it is not proposed to introduce any further affordability measures but to build upon the provision already made in the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme," the memo said.

The party has always wanted suitable affordability measures to be included, and will be pushing for them over the next fortnight.

Such a benefit was widely viewed as acting towards creating an additional poverty trap.

Likewise, a subvention from the Department of Social Protection to Irish Water to cover the cost of giving the service for free to those on social welfare benefits was ruled out.