Irish Water billing mistakes left customers unable to pay

More than 3,000 did not have their water charges payments processed due to errors

Irish Water managing director John Tierney. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Irish Water managing director John Tierney. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

More than 3,000 people who were willing to pay their water charges over the past three months were unable to do so because of mistakes made in the billing process by Irish Water, The Irish Times has learned.

As a result of the errors, these account holders did not have their payments processed.

They will now have to make two payments during the utility firm’s second billing cycle.

The problem arose when the affected direct debits were set up on the utility’s billing system as “recurring” rather than “new”.

Once they were assigned this status, requests for payments were made to customer’s banks five days before the due date.

As eight days is the minimum notice a bank demands to set up and facilitate a new direct debit payment, which is what they should have been classified as, they could not be processed.

Direct debits

“As soon as Irish Water became aware of this issue, we took steps to proactively contact the customers affected to apologise in the first instance and to make them aware of the issue,” a spokeswoman said.

“All affected direct debit customers now have the option to allow us to rectify the direct debit set-up on their account and to take two bill cycle payments at one time during the second billing cycle, or to cancel their direct debit set-up altogether and to make payment using any of the six other payment options available.”

Irish Water also gave an undertaking that no customer would be financially disadvantaged “in any way” as a result of this error.

Less than half paid

The 3,000 people whose direct debits were not processed correctly were classified as non-payers in these figures, despite their attempts to pay the bill.

All told, Irish Water was down close to €200,000 in the first quarter as a result of the errors, although it will be in a position to claw back this shortfall in the second wave of bills.

It is not the first time Irish Water’s direct debit processes have come under scrutiny.

Following concerns over data protection earlier this year, the company said 9,000 customers who gave details of direct debit mandates over the phone were being asked to resubmit them in writing.

Another 2,000 customers who submitted payment details in writing were asked to do so again because of “errors” in transposing customer details online, the utility said.

Irish Water sent out bills to more than 1.7 million households during its first billing cycle.

To date just over 1.1 million households have registered with the utility.