by Carl O’Brien from the Irish Times
Householders who fail to pay new water charges face having their water pressure reduced, under new measures approved by the Government.
The cost of water charges has yet to be formally agreed, but informed sources indicate the cost to an average household will be in the region of between €100 and €300 a year.
In addition, new legislation will provide that unpaid water charges may be made against a householder’s property.
The measures are contained in new legislation, the Water Services (No 2) Bill, approved by the Cabinet last week. It is due to be published over the coming months.
While householders who fail to pay will not be disconnected, Irish Water – the new body responsible for water supply – will have the power to reduce the water pressure of any customer who consistently refuses to pay.
Officials say the move would be targeted at those who opt not to pay, rather than those who cannot afford to pay, and would only occur after customers have refused all options available to pay their bills.
“In practice it would involve limiting the water a household consumes, but providing enough to cover basic needs,” said a water industry source, who declined to be named.
Householders will receive their first water bills in the early months of 2015, covering the last quarter of 2014.
The charges will be based on usage measured by water meters, which will be installed in one million homes connected to public water supplies.
The meter installation project is due to begin later this month. It will employ an estimated 1,600 people over the next three years.
Householders will not pay fees upfront for the installation of meters, but are likely to end up paying over the longer term in the form of standing charges. While hundreds of thousands of water meters will be installed over the coming months, many will not have them in place by the time charges come into force at the end of next year.
In addition, meter installation may not be possible in as many as 300,000 homes, such as apartments.
These homes face paying what officials call an “assessed charge”. This will likely be based on a number of factors such as the type of property, the number of people living in the house and average metered bills in the area.
Officials are considering a rebate system for homes whose metered charges turn out to be significantly lower than their assessed charges.
There will also be free allowances for groups who are likely to face real difficulties in paying the charges and for those whose medical needs mean they have to consume large quantities of water.
No formal decisions have yet been made on fees. A framework for water charges will be drawn up following a public consultation by the Commission for Energy Regulation, which will be responsible for regulating the sector.
The new legislation also provides for the transition of responsibility for water services away from local authorities to Irish Water over a three-year period beginning next year.
During this time local authorities will operate as agents of Irish Water to deliver a range of services under service-level agreements.
If a service-level agreement is terminated or is not renewed, local authority staff will move to Irish Water with their terms, conditions and pensions protected.
The metering programme, meanwhile, will begin to be rolled out later this month.