People will get water charge refunds before Christmas, says Varadkar

Everyone who paid water charges ‘will have their money back before the end of the year’

 People protest in Dublin against water charges. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

People protest in Dublin against water charges. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised that all those who paid water charges will be refunded before Christmas.

Mr Varadkar said in an interview on Sunday “they’ll be refunded this autumn. We’re gearing up to do that”.

“I anticipate that everybody will have their money back before the end of the year” he said.

The Taoiseach was speaking in an interview with the Sunday Independent.

The expected cost of refunding every household which paid water charges bill will be €170 million.

Mr Varadkar said refunds will begin before the Budget 2018 in October, adding the money to refund people will not necessarily come from funds allocated in the budget.

Water charges were the most contentious issue between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael during talks on the “confidence and supply” deal, which sees Fianna Fáil support the minority Fine Gael Government.

The deal stipulated the establishment of an Expert Commission on water charges, which started work in June 2016. Water charges were suspended while the expert group reviewed their future.

The expert report recommended only “wasteful” water users should be charged.

In November the Dáil agreed to set up an Oireachtas committee to consider the expert report and in April 2017 the committee said only those who use 1.7 times the average amount of water per day would be charged for their usage.

In practice this meant the abolition of water charges for the vast majority of households.

The committee also recommended that those who had paid their water charges bills should receive a refund from the State.

Around 1 million households will benefit from the water charges refunds, with some receiving up to €325.

The exact process around how refunds will be calculated has not yet been announced.

People’s refunds may be smaller if they claimed the €100 water conservation grant. But as the conservation grant was not linked to payment of the water bills it may be complicated to discern who claimed the grant while paying water charges.

Water charges were introduced in 2015 and quickly became one of the most charged issues of the Fine Gael - Labour coalition government.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance (now Solidarity) and the People Before Profit party spearheaded the initial campaign opposing the charges from 2014.

The controversial 2014 Jobstown protest that saw then tánaiste Joan Burton held inside a vehicle for three hours was an anti-water charges protest.

The anti water charges campaign at its height saw several large marches attended by tens of thousands of people in Dublin, and nearly a 50 per cent non-payment rate of water bills among households.

Local anti-water charges groups were sent up across the country, and routinely protested the installation of water meters on roads in their localities.

As pressure on the coalition Government grew, Sinn Féin and other left wing parties joined the “Right to Water” campaign opposing the charges.

In the 2016 general election Fianna Fáil also adopted the position that the charges should be dropped.

In June 2016 following the formation of the Fine Gael minoirty government, the billing of water charges was suspended.