Europe

Charges for wasting water put back for yet another year

Irish Water has abandoned plans to charge households for wasting water in 2021, with the start date for the penalty now pushed back to 2022 at the earliest.

By then it will be five years since legislation was passed to allow the introduction of the controversial charge.

It has been mired in difficulties because of questions over Irish Water’s ability to fairly impose charges when not all homes are metered to measure excess use, and when tens of thousands of leaks that are responsible for excess use have yet to be repaired.

It is also unclear how the company would enforce charges when it cannot cut or reduce supplies to non-payers.

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Just five months ago, Irish Water was granted approval to begin billing households from January 2021.

That was after an announcement in 2018 that the excess use charging regime would take effect from January 2019 with the first bills tentatively scheduled for July 2019.

But in yet another revised plan, approved by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), that date has now been pushed out to January 2022 at the earliest.

Irish Water said exact details of how the charges would be applied were still being finalised.

“The water charges plan published by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities confirms that the earliest a bill for excess use will be issued is January 2022,” it said.

“Initial dates proposed were provisional as we are still working with the CRU and Government to finalise the approach.”

In theory, householders detected using above normal quantities of water could receive a warning notice, termed a “call to action” letter in the latter half of next year.

After three months, if there is no change in the level of water usage, they would get a formal notice of excess use with their first bill to follow 12 months later if the excessive use continued during the intervening period.

Excess use is defined as usage above the standard annual allowance of 213,000 litres, although households with more than four occupants can apply for a higher allowance. Exemption from the charge may be sought on medical grounds.

A charge of €3.70 has been approved by the CRU for every 1,000 litres of water used above the threshold subject to a cap of €500.

Households that do not have a meter installed to precisely measure the excess usage may also be charged the full cap.

Irish Water runs a “first fix free” scheme for the investigation of leaks on private properties and the repair of leaks in pipes leading into dwellings, although not within dwellings themselves.

The most recent published progress report on the scheme dates to the last quarter of 2018 when the company wrote to 3,868 properties advising that substantial leaks – more than 1,000 litres of water a day – had been detected.

Almost 3,000 of those properties were losing more than 5,000 litres a day when average household usage is 350 litres. A further 71,400 were leaking up to 5,000 litres a day.

An Irish Water spokeswoman said investigation and repair figures for 2019 had been submitted to the CRU and would be published as soon as they were approved.

But she said the scheme had been running throughout the year, and added: “We’d really encourage anyone who has received a letter from us about the service to get in touch.”

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