Irish Water will not reveal breakdown of payments

Utility says to release such information could lead to non-payment of bills in the future

Anti-water charge protesters in Cork. Irish Water said there were no significant regional variations in payment levels. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Anti-water charge protesters in Cork. Irish Water said there were no significant regional variations in payment levels. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

Irish Water has refused to reveal how many water bills have been paid in each county because it “could lead to non-payment of bills in future”.

The Irish Times submitted a freedom of information request in late June asking for a breakdown of the number of water bills issued to all households, both nationally and in each county or council area, and the proportion of bills paid in each.

Although Irish Water released information on the level of payments made nationally earlier this month, it refused to provide the information at county or council level.

It said the decision had been made on two grounds under the Act: that the information was commercially sensitive and related to the economic or financial circumstances of a public body.

“Releasing data regarding the number of bills paid at county/local authority level into the public domain could lead to non-payment of bills in the future. This would have a negative impact on Irish Water’s financial position,” the utility said in correspondence explaining its decision.

However, it said “regional figures reflect the national average with no significant variations”.

The information could have been released if the freedom of information officer found there was a public interest in doing so, but the officer said the request for information did not meet this test.

‘Public interest’

“While Irish Water is releasing, in the public interest, national data as regards the number of bills paid, it does not think it is appropriate to, nor is it prepared, to issue billing information per individual county/council level,” he said.

The decision-maker went on to say that “the public interest is best served by affording Irish Water a normal degree of confidentiality to bring about reform of Ireland’s water sector, on behalf of all of the Irish people”.

“Anything that interfered with this process would have a negative financial impact on Irish Water and on the Irish State. This would result in extra costs having to be passed on to consumers, which would not be in the public interest.”

Figures released by Irish Water in mid-July showed that 46 per cent of water charges issued for the first three months of the year had been paid, €30.5 million of the €66.8 million due to the utility.

This equates to about 675,000 households or 43 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million households on the public water network.

The difference in the level of money collected by the utility and the proportion of households that have paid their bills is because some bills are higher than others.