HOMEOWNERS hit with enormous water bills because of leaks will have to identify the problem themselves to avail of a "first fix free" scheme.
People will have just a year to identify a problem with their supply which is resulting in very high bills, after which they will be obliged to pay for repairs themselves.
The Government believes as many as one in in ten homes – or more than 100,000 properties – will need leaks repaired when water charges are introduced from October 1 next.
But Environment Minister Phil Hogan has confirmed that the Government's 'first fix free' policy will place the onus on homeowners to identify a problem and will only apply for 12 months after charges are introduced.
If problems emerge after that it would be up to the homeowner to fund the repairs, he said.
He also said €30m would be set aside to fund repair works, and that problems would be identified by homeowners who received bills that were larger than expected.
Average bills, while not yet decided, are likely to be up to €350 a year based on the UK experience.
Mr Hogan also revealed further details of planned reforms to the water sector including changes to planning rules which will oblige all new buildings – including private homes – to be fitted with rainwater harvesting systems to help reduce demand.
In many cases, homeowners will not be aware they have leaks as the water can be found under gardens and may never appear on the surface.
Most leaks are found around the stopcock of fittings, but they could also be in the pipe which would require the pavement or garden to be dug up and the pipe replaced. Older houses, serviced by metal pipes, are more likely to leak.