| 13.4°C Dublin

Fury as families face €800 bill to install water meters

HOMEOWNERS will not have the opportunity to cut water costs by sourcing their own meters or doing a DIY installation.

Hard-pressed families will be forced to use companies picked by the Government to install the controversial meters.

This means that homes will be stung with an €800 bill for the installation -- before they even pay for the water itself.

Bord Gais now appears to be the frontrunner to operate the proposed Irish Water company which will run the service.

Sources said today that several Cabinet members were "furious" with Environment Minister Phil Hogan over the debacle-- especially as it comes so soon after the Household Charge disaster.

"This should have been all decided before it got into the public domain. It's a farce and the Government are being made look disjoined and incompetent," said a well-placed source. The Government was also slammed by the opposition for its "ludicrous" plan to make people pay up for having yet another bill imposed on them.

The Herald has also learned today that households will have no option but to hire certain companies to carry out the works.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment said that around 200 separate companies will be in charge of installing the metres after a tender process. She explained that the hardware will be owned by Irish Water and therefore DIY jobs will not be possible.


Even before a single drop of water is metered and billed, an annual charge of around €40 each year for 20 years, totalling €800, is set to be levied on homes.

The Commission for Energy Regulation will set the cost, method and timescale for payments for water charges. All homes are to be given a free allowance of water before they are charged for usage.

The spokesperson said that the regulator would be "acting on behalf of the consumer".

Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins said: "The notion that the Government would force households to pay hundreds of euro upfront for the privilege of then charging them further for their water use is ludicrous."

Mr Hogan indicated the €40 annual charge will cover the cost of the water meter as well as the cost of installing and maintaining the new system.

The National Pensions Reserve Fund (NPRF) is providing a loan of €450m for the water metering programme but Mr Hogan said it must be repaid by taxpayers.

Documents exchanged between the NPRF and the Department of the Environment reveal householders must stump up the whole cost of putting in place the new system.

The NPRF loan is over 20 years, and the plans say the standing annual charge will have to be paid over the entire period and probably ad infinitum.

Mr Hogan brought recommendations to Cabinet today on the make up of 'Irish Water'.

Householders already pay annual charges for electric and gas. Electricity levies can vary from €33 and €73 every two months. Bord Gais charges €85 annually.

Some 1.35m households paying the new €40 per year would raise more than €1bn -- more than double the NPRF's €450m loan.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny added to the confusion by saying no decisions had been made on new levies just one day after declaring homeowners would pay for their own meters.

Installing water meters will begin this year.

Under the international financial bail-out agreement, the Irish Government must start charging for water by 2014.

Mr Collins added: " The confusion coming from the most senior levels in Government about this very first piece of the water charging jigsaw does not bode well for the future and is absolutely the wrong way to begin a debate on the issue."

Around 300,000 homes will not have meters installed in time, and will be hit with a flat rate charge from 2014 instead.

Unmetered homes will not have to pay the annual €35 to €40 charge until water meters are installed in their homes. It is planned that all 1.35 million homes will have meters by 2017.

See Page 14