Irish Water bill refunds: all your questions answered

Everything you need to know, from the refunds to the conservation grant

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed that people who paid their bills are to have the money returned by the end of the year. The repayments are expected to cost the state approximately €170 million.


Another Q&A on Irish Water? Is that really necessary?
It is, because when it comes to Irish Water the questions just keep on changing. Back in the day when the not-yet-toxic Irish Water was getting ready to bill us, people really wanted to know how much they were going to have to hand over, but today people want to know how much the utility will give to them. And when.

So, what’s happening with Irish Water now?
Well, as you will know – unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past five years – water charges were a hot potato in the run-up to last year’s general election. Once the dust settled on that less than decisive vote, one thing was clear: charges were really unpopular. They had to be suspended to allow wise heads, in the form of a commission, time to decide what to do.

And what was the outcome of that?
The commission decided that normal domestic water usage should be paid for by the State, a recommendation that was accepted by the Oireachtas Committee on Water Charges.

I paid all my bills, so I will get my money back, right?
Right. The process of reimbursement is likely to begin in October, with a vague promise that everyone will have got whatever money they gave to Irish Water back by Christmas.

How will the refunds be processed?
We don’t know. That is one of the key details that needs to be ironed out in the weeks ahead. The refunds could be processed automatically if Irish Water has your bank or debit or credit card details, but there will be a significant number of people who will have paid using alternative methods. If a one-size-fits-all refund system is what the Government wants, then it likely people will have to proactively apply for the refund.

And just how much of a refund are we talking about?
Well that depends on how many of the five bills you paid and how many adults live in your house. Householders who paid all five bills and lived alone will get €200 while those who live in a household of more than one adult will be entitled to €325.

Will I have to give the “water conservation grant” back?
Amazingly, no. The €100 grant was distributed by the Department of Social Protection and was introduced in 2015, when rage about water was starting to boil over. It was widely viewed as an attempt to entice people to sign up to the billing system, although the government insisted it aimed to encourage more considered use of water. While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would like the grant to be deducted from the refund, official assurances given at the time to the European Commission that the grant and the charges were entirely separate mean that is likely to prove tricky.

I paid my water charges but moved house earlier this year. Will I still get the refund?
Of course, although you might have to wait for it. The Department of Housing has intimated that refunding those who have moved home will be a logistical nightmare, and such payments might not be processed until next year.

How much is the refund going to cost and where is the money coming from?
All told, €170 million will have to be refunded. An underspend in the Department of Social Protection due to falling numbers claiming jobseekers’ allowance is likely to be the source of the money.

And how is the water infrastructure to be maintained and developed?
All the money will come from the exchequer, which means we will still be paying for our water as we have always done.

What about all the meters put in place? Is there any use for them now?
It’s hard to say. On the plus side, the metering programme has detected leaks and allowed for the monitoring of water usage. But that seems like a poor return for all the cost and all the hassle associated with their installation.

I got the water conservation grant but never got around to paying any of my bills. Will I have to give the €100 quid back?
No. Almost 200,000 people claimed the grant but did not pay any of the five bills distributed by the water utility. That means this sizeable cohort will have actually profited from the whole debacle.

That doesn’t really seem fair?
No, it does not.