Irish Water may deduct unpaid bills from wages and welfare

Proposals being considered by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly

Attachment orders on wages and welfare payments are seen as likely to be included in new measures to be published by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly. Photograph: Alan Betson

Attachment orders on wages and welfare payments are seen as likely to be included in new measures to be published by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Irish Water will be able to deduct water bills directly from wages and welfare payments under strengthened compliance measures being considered by the Government.

The introduction of attachment orders in order to increase compliance with water charges marks a step change in the Coalition’s approach to those who do not pay their water bills.

While sources said the proposals have yet to be finalised, attachment orders on wages and welfare payments are seen as likely to be included in new measures to be published by Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly.

A similar system is in place for those who do not pay the property tax, and it is understood Irish Water has some powers which would allow it to do the same. The new proposals would strengthen its ability to deduct at source.

Irish Water would have to have to get a court order to deduct unpaid bills at source and Coalition figures said the move will be targeted at those who are refusing to pay rather than those who cannot afford their bills.

“This is about getting the ‘won’t pays’,” said one figure. “There are numerous anti-poverty measures to protect those who cannot afford it, such as payment plans.”

Government sources feel that the protest movement has been reduced to a hardcore, giving it political space to introduce stronger compliance measures.

Mr Kelly is drafting compliance legislation on water charges, and his proposals will be brought to Cabinet in the coming weeks.

Those who do not register will be charged a default rate of €260 per year, with fines of €30 being added per year for single adult homes, and €60 per year for multiple adult homes.

It was also previously announced that unpaid bills can be left as a charge on a property, which means a house cannot be sold unless the debt is paid.

The obligations of landlords will also be included in the revised measures, which may include obliging landlords to deduct the unpaid debts from rental deposits provided by tenants.

The Government’s recast water charges plan announced last year removed a provision which allowed Irish Water reduce the flow to homes but the company can still pursue people through the courts.

However, it is understood Mr Kelly’s new proposals will not be discussed by Ministers at this week’s Cabinet meeting.

When asked if attachment orders are under consideration, a spokesman for Mr Kelly said: “All options are being considered.”

Speaking on RTÉ radio on Monday, Mr Kelly said he respected those who have concerns and who took part in weekend protests. However, he added the Coalition had already reacted with the substantially recast plan announced last year.

“The people are coming with us,” he said. “If you have two people sitting side by side in a bus and one person is registered and the other person isn’t, they say they are not going to pay, I can assure you from a Government point of view that legislation regulations will be brought in to ensure that everyone will treated the same. And there will be enforcement, whereby anyone who refuses to pay that legislation will be there to deal with that.

“There will be a distinction between those who can’t pay or are finding it difficult to pay and those who just refuse to pay.”