Irish Water customers set to get first quarterly bills

Utility expects to raise €70m from first billing quarter

Irish Water has announced a boost in the number of customer service agents at the Cork-based company Abtran, with 750 agents available to take calls from the public as the billing commences. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Irish Water has announced a boost in the number of customer service agents at the Cork-based company Abtran, with 750 agents available to take calls from the public as the billing commences. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Irish Water bills will begin arriving at customers’ homes from Wednesday as the utility begins charging for water usage over the past three months.

Customers in Gorey, Navan and north Donegal will be among the first to receive meter-read bills.

Customers with no meters will receive bills based on a fixed charge rate.

The first batch of quarterly bills will be issued to 1.5 million customers, sent via email and post, arriving at homes around the country every day for the next eight weeks.

Irish Water expects to raise €70 million from the first billing quarter (covering the period January 1st to March 31st, 2015) and a total of €271 million for the year.

Deluge of queries

Cork-based call centre Abtran, which deals with Irish Water queries, has hired an additional 350 staff to deal with an expected deluge of customer queries as bills begin to arrive.

The company, which employs 2,200 people at its offices in Mahon and Curraheen, has trained a total of 750 people to deal specifically with Irish Water queries over the next eight weeks.

Two-thirds of customers have registered, amounting to 1.25 million households, according to Irish Water.

“Those who have their own water and waste water services shouldn’t be getting a bill from us, but we have no way of knowing who they are because you might have your own well or septic tank and also have a service from the mains but you don’t use it, so we need to have that information so we know exactly who to bill,” Irish Water head of communications Elizabeth Arnett said.

Conservation grant

All households are eligible for the €100 Water Conservation Grant, whether they are supplied by Irish Water or not.

In situations where Irish Water cannot distinguish households by their address, the utility will wait for customer engagement on receipt of the bill and then allocate an account number.

For example, a cluster of houses using the same townland address will be issued with individual bills.

When the customer contacts Irish Water and quotes the account number on their bill, that number will become their unique account number.

Some 40 per cent of Irish households have non-unique addresses, but Irish Water says it has “worked through the data” to minimise problems to about 10 per cent of households.

Geospatial database

In these cases, the utility will use An Post’s geospatial database to confirm the correct bill is delivered to the correct house.

To facilitate meter billing, the country has been divided into three geographic regions, with 41 sub regions and 123 “read parcel” areas to issue bills every 13 weeks.

As meter installation continues, the billing cycle will remain consistent as customers move from unmetered to metered tariffs.

The “metering effect” could bring about a reduction in water usage of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent, while the first 1,000 leaks to be fixed under Irish Water’s €51 million “first fix” scheme will save 20 million litres of water.

Leaks identified

Leaks identified in the first 413,000 metered homes last October amounted to 46 million litres of water.

“That’s enough water to supply Limerick city every day, leaking under driveways,” Ms Arnett said.

Irish Water will issue a total of 1.7 million bills, inclusive of households not classed as customers, such as those served by group schemes or private wells.

Bills will be issued quarterly and will be based on the number of days in each quarter. Bills will be metered and unmetered, depending on whether a meter has been installed. A single occupant household can expect a first bill of €40 or less, while a two-adult household can expect a charge of €65 or less.

Customers can apply for the government’s Water Conservation Grant, which will be available through the Department of Social Protection from September.

Leaflet drop

Protesters gathered outside Abtran offices in Mahon on Tuesday said they plan to drop leaflets to every household in Cork calling for continued resistance to Irish Water and demanding its abolition.

Protester Brian Gould said Irish Water’s figures do not add up.

“Irish Water are telling us there is 1.5 million people signed up, do they count the amount of letters that were sent back to them with no consent?

“We are not their customers, we already pay for our water and we have been paying for it for the past 30 years,” he said.