THE Government is to pay for repair works for water leaks at homes across the country.
Repairs will be carried out at private residences once annual water bills are introduced.
The annual water fees, set to be introduced next year or in early 2015, will be an average of €300 per household.
The scheme will be seen as an attempt by the Government to soften the blow of yet another tax it is levying on hard-pressed homeowners.
It is set to be part of the meter installation process, will cover the cost of repairing pipes between the footpath and hall door.
It will not cover internal leaks at homes which are not part of the meter process and the scheme can only be availed of once by property owners.
A spokesman for the Environment Department confirmed that they are, in conjunction with Irish Water, currently working on a proposal regarding customer-side leakage.
"It is Minister Phil Hogan's intention that as part of a range of conservation measures to be put in place, that where leakage is found through the water meter installation programme on the customer side, a 'first fix free' or equivalent support scheme would be provided."
The Government department said detailed implementation arrangements will be worked out with Irish Water.
Experts estimate that the cost of fixing and replacing these pipes ranges from €800 to €1,200 per property. This means the bill to complete repairs could be as high as €60m.
The policy being developed here will apply to all homeowners regardless of their income. However, any subsequent leaks will have to be repaired by the customer. Water meters will be installed in just over 1m homes over the next three years, with work beginning next month.
Up to 300,000 homeowners – primarily people living in apartments which cannot be metered – will pay their bills based on average consumption, called an "assessed charge".
Some homes will also pay an assessed charge until meters are installed.
It is understood people who use less than the average amount of water will be given a refund or credit against future bills.
The first-leak policy could benefit thousands of homes.
Based on leak detection rates in Dublin, 50,000 homes throughout the country could have a leak in the pipe running from the water mains into the property.
Among the options being considered to fund the repairs are asking Irish Water to complete the work, or introducing a grants scheme where local contractors could be hired, boosting employment.
The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which will set the tariffs, could also be asked to factor in the repair bill when determining the charges to be levied on homeowners.