House sellers have to pay water charges before getting refund

Legislation forcing house sellers to pay water charges still in place

Legislation forcing people selling their homes to pay their Irish Water bills is still in place even though the charges have been abolished and the utility is getting ready to process refunds.

The situation has been described as "borderline bizarre" by the Law Society of Ireland while would-be sellers who have contacted this newspaper have expressed anger at the pointlessness of having to pay a charge which has been scrapped.

"I could not believe it when my solicitor told me that the sale of my home could not go through unless I could provide proof that I had paid all my water charges," one seller told The Irish Times.

“I did not pay the charges out of principal and now, if I am to be allowed sell my house I have to pay,” the man who asked to remain anonymous said.


He added that he had been told by his solicitor that if he did not pay the charge, then any money owed to Irish Water would be deducted from the sale price and forwarded to the controversial utility .

Irish Water will then have to return the money to him within weeks of the sale going through. However, it will send the cheque to his old address unless he makes contact giving them his new address, adding another layer of bureaucracy - some might say stupidity - the saga.

"Section 48 of the [Environment Act] has not been repealed and that means that solicitors have no choice but to do this," said the chairman of the Law Society's Conveyancing Committee, Joe Thomas.

“If you are selling your house and I am acting on your behalf I have to ask you to bring in a statement proving you have paid all your Irish Water bills and if you don’t bring in the statement I have to write to Irish Water requesting the statement and then deduct any money from the sale. You can imagine how popular that makes solicitors. It is borderline bizarre. “

Water charges were a somewhat controversial topic in the run up to the last general election and were suspended in its aftermath before being completely abolished earlier this summer.

Around half of the Republic’s homeowners did not pay any of their charges with the percentage of non-payers rising dramatically after it became clear that the writing was on the wall for them.

If 50,000 homes change hands this year, at least half the sellers will have to pay at least something to Irish Water who will then have to return it to them.

“The payment of water services bill is a pre-condition for the sale of a house,” a Department of Housing spokesman confirmed. “The proposed discontinuance of the water charges that were introduced under the 2014 legislation will be dealt with in the forthcoming legislation along with the issue of refunds. It is proposed that refunds will be paid to customers who paid charges (by normal means or by way of the condition on the sale of a house).”

He said that the legislation would be brought to Cabinet "as soon as drafting is complete" and added that it has been given priority by the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.

When asked about the absurdity of insisting a charge which has been abolished is paid only so it can be returned within weeks and the administration cost associated with the policy the spokesman accepted that “there may be some minimal costs involved in some conveyancing transactions between now and the implementation of the water legislation” but again stressed the department was “progressing it as quickly as possible”.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor