Most homes face flat-rate fees when water charges start
Majority of households will not have water meters by end of year
Department of Environment figures show fewer than 480,000 homes will have meters installed by the end of this year. Photograph: Colm Mahady/Fennells
Most households face paying flat-rate water charges early next year as new figures show the majority of homes will not have water meters installed in time.
Householders are due to receive their first water bills in the early months of 2015, covering the final quarter of 2014.
The Government has said it is introducing water metering on the basis that it is the fairest way to charge for water use among the 1.35 million homes connected to public water supplies.
But Department of Environment figures show fewer than 480,000 homes will have meters installed by the end of this year. It estimates that just over a million households will have water meters installed by the end of 2016. The remaining 300,000 homes include apartments or shared buildings with a single water connection will not be metered, at least in the short term.
Government policy had been that water charges would not be introduced until meters had been installed in all but 300,000 homes that use shared supply pipes.
But policymakers have been under pressure to begin water charges towards the end of this year, as a condition of our bailout agreement with the troika.
Anyone with a water meter faces charges on a pay-per-use basis. Those without a meter face flat-rate fees or assessed charges, which are likely to be based on the type of building they reside in and typical water use in the area.
Officials are considering a rebate system for homes whose metered charges turn out to be significantly lower than their assessed charges.
The Government has assigned responsibility for water charges to the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is consulting the public on the issue.
While no figures have yet been agreed, informed sources said they expect the cost to an average household will be in the region of between €100 and €300 a year.
Householders who fail to pay will not be disconnected. However, Irish Water – the new body responsible for water supply – will have the power to reduce the water pressure of any customer who refuses to pay.
Officials said the move would be targeted at those who opt not to pay, rather than those who cannot afford to pay.
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.
Ireland is the only country in the EU where households do not pay directly for the water they use.
The metering programme began last summer and is due to last up to three years. It is estimated that about 27,000 meters a month are being installed across the State.
Briefing material released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act shows that officials expect water use will fall by at least 10 per cent once meters are installed.
It also shows that a number of alternatives to universal water metering were considered.
One option was an “opt-in” approach, where households could decide to have a meter installed.
While this would have cut costs, there were concerns that only “water-conscious” users would opt for meters and consumption would not fall.