Bray People - - THE NOTEBOOK -

The av­er­age charge for each house is ex­pected to be €370

WELL OVER A mil­lion house­holds across the coun­try will be hit with more bills from some­time next year on­wards, when charges be­gin to be ap­plied for their domestic water sup­ply.

The new fees will fol­low the in­tro­duc­tion of the full Lo­cal Prop­erty Tax and the sep­tic tank reg­is­tra­tion charge, and could well be the most un­pop­u­lar yet, as peo­ple are asked to pay for some­thing they see as a ba­sic hu­man right and some­thing we sim­ply can­not live with­out: a clean and re­li­able source of run­ning water.

But what we Ir­ish take for granted is not ac­tu­ally all that com­mon in the devel­oped world, as Ire­land is one of the few coun­tries in the OECD (Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­Op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment) that does not charge for water us­age. In the UK, for ex­am­ple, av­er­age bills for a house­hold of two adults and two chil­dren equate to ap­prox­i­mately €400 per an­num. While no de­ci­sion has yet been made as to the spe­cific charges that will ap­ply here from 2014 on­wards, it can be cal­cu­lated from the Government’s es­ti­mate that €500m will be raised from the 1.35 mil­lion house­holds li­able that the av­er­age charge per house will be in the re­gion of €370.

The charges are be­ing in­tro­duced be­cause the Government is com­mit­ted to do­ing so as part of the EUIMF Res­cue Plan. This is be­cause of the huge cost in­volved in ac­tu­ally pro­vid­ing a water sup­ply to homes: es­ti­mated at some €1.2bn per year. How­ever, many of the finer points have yet to be fi­nalised.

For ex­am­ple, while in­stal­la­tion of domestic water me­ters is due to be­gin from July of this year on­wards, it is read­ily ac­cepted that it will be im­pos­si­ble to have me­ters in­stalled at all houses be­fore the charges come into force. Like­wise, there are many dwellings – such as apart­ments, and cer­tain types of older houses – where it is just not pos­si­ble to in­stall me­ters to give an ac­cu­rate record of water us­age within. In th­ese cases, a ‘flat fee’ is to be charged, though there is no in­di­ca­tion yet as to what this is likely to be set at, or whether any al­lowance will be made for the dif­fer­ence be­tween a sin­gle per­son liv­ing by them­selves in a small apart­ment, say, and per­haps a large fam­ily liv­ing in much big­ger house.

Nor is there even any in­di­ca­tion as to when ex­actly the charges will come into force. While the Government is obliged to in­tro­duce the charge in 2014, it is not obliged to in­tro­duce it by any par­tic­u­lar date other than De­cem­ber 31, and some com­men­ta­tors have pre­dicted it will hold off on the charges un­til af­ter the lo­cal elec­tions due to be held in June next year, for fear of ‘protest’ votes against the coali­tion par­ties.

What is clear is that the Government in­tends to give each house­hold a ‘free’ an­nual al­lowance of water, to cover ba­sic san­i­ta­tion needs, af­ter which charges will ap­ply. How­ever, there is no in­di­ca­tion ei­ther as to how gen­er­ous or oth­er­wise this al­lowance may ac­tu­ally be.

And if a house­hold re­fuses to pay the charge? Sources say it is un­likely that they will be cut off com­pletely from the water sup­ply, but that a ‘ restric­tor’ could in­stead be fixed to their mains sup­ply.

Ir­ish Water – a sub­sidiary of Bord Gáis, which is be­ing es­tab­lished to over­see the in­stal­la­tion of me­ters and in­tro­duc­tion of charges – says it ex­pects a 90 per cent com­pli­ance rate with re­gard to bills be­ing paid.

A water me­ter.

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