| 13.2°C Dublin

Water meters in UK are half the price we face

THE €780 cost per household of installing water meters in Ireland is more than double the price in London. Thames Water, the UK's largest water company, said it levies a charge of about £280 (€340) for the service.

The company, which serves 14m customers across London and Thames Valley, told the Herald the price can vary depending on how many homes are being fitted.

However, it comes nowhere near the expected fee in Ireland. "The cost would be a lot lower than that," said Thames Water spokesman Simon Evans when informed of the outlay here. Even if the company was fitting a meter in a single home, it would be much lower than the €780 price, he added.

It comes as Taoiseach Enda Kenny warned that those who fail to pay water charges face being cut off from the supply.

The Government is still unable to provide details about how much of a free allowance will be available or how much water will cost per litre.

"It's very important that people understand that good and careful and prudent use of water like that should not result in anybody getting into the difficulty," the Taoiseach said.

However, the suggested price of €39 per year over 20 years for the installation fee is excessive, according to industry experts.

Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins is unsure why there is such a gap between costs in Ireland and the UK. "I don't know what the difference is. The cost (for Ireland) is completely exorbitant," he told the Herald.

"What people are saying to me is that it was €300 at the weekend and now it's gone up to €800. What's the story?" the Limerick TD said.

Despite the installation cost, meters are the "fairest way for customers to pay", Mr Evans added.

Customers with the devices are "more likely to use less" water and more likely to use it more efficiently, he said.

Just under a third of the company's customer base pays by use. It aspires to hit the 80pc mark within a few years.

Mr Evans pointed out a metered house uses about 140 litres a day, while the figure for a non-metered customer is about 170 litres. "That's a big difference, with water being in short supply. We say it must be a good thing," he said.

While local authorities manage the supply of drinking water in Ireland, the system was privatised in England and Wales in the late 1980s.

A new semi-state Irish Water is to take over responsibility for the service in this country.

However, a storm of controversy has erupted over the proposed cost of installing meters.

Householders will have to pay €39 a year over 20 years to cover the cost of the loan from the National Pension Reserve Fund to install the devices in 1m Irish homes.

It is to be levied as a standing charge, similar to fees imposed on energy companies like Bord Gais and the ESB.

The Government has stressed the ultimate decision on the size of the annual charge will be a decision for the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Under the bailout deal struck with the IMF-EU water charges are to become payable in early 2014 but it may be longer before all homes are metered.

The Taoiseach said up to 2,000 jobs are to be created through the installation of the meters.

Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins described the issue as the "latest fiasco" at the Department of the Environment.