Half of €9.3m fire brigade fees not collected in 2014

‘Irish Times’ research found eight out of 22 counties collected under half what was owed

‘If you are discouraging people from calling 999 in the case of a genuine emergency, that is appalling policy that is inevitably geared towards putting human lives at risk,” said Conor Faughnan of AA Roadwatch. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

‘If you are discouraging people from calling 999 in the case of a genuine emergency, that is appalling policy that is inevitably geared towards putting human lives at risk,” said Conor Faughnan of AA Roadwatch. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Almost half of the €9.3 million owed to local authority fire services by Irish homes and businesses last year was not paid, figures reveal.

According to research compiled by The Irish Times, €4.6 million in charges for fire brigade call-outs was outstanding on December 31st, 2014, leaving some local authorities with sizeable arrears.

Galway’s Fire and Rescue Service racked up the largest debt for 2014 with nearly €880,000 worth of fees not paid, while Tipperary County Council failed to collect 96 per cent of the €274,565 in fees levied throughout last year.

Most local authorities across the country charge for fire brigade services for domestic fires, traffic accidents and fires on commercial premises. Cork is the only county in Ireland that does not charge.

Overall, it was found that eight out of 22 counties surveyed had collected less than half of what was owed.

While some authorities limit their pursuit of nonpayers to bills and reminder notices, eight of the 22 questioned said they reserve the right to instigate legal proceedings against anyone non-payers, and five authorities said they use private debt-collection agencies.

Reluctant debtors

Cavan County Council

Replies from most counties indicated that payment of fire brigade fees for commercial callouts was a particular issue.

In the case of Galway city and county services, about €690,000 of the €880,000 in unpaid invoices related to fires at commercial premises, which often command a far higher payment rate than domestic emergency calls.

Waterford registered the most successful payments, recouping 74 per cent of the €233,000 it invoiced.

Kerry was the only other county which climbed above the 70 per cent mark, although various authorities, including Tipperary, pointed out that they also collected arrears from previous years. They also said payments for the latter end of 2014 could not reasonably be expected to be collected by December 31st.

Responding to the findings, the Department of the Environment said: “The collection of call-out charges for fire brigades is a matter for each individual local authority, as is the case with other charges.

“The Department does, however, encourage local authorities to collect any monies they are owed in the interest of prudent financial management.”

Fire-safety awareness

AAConor Faughnan

“If you are discouraging people from calling 999 in the case of a genuine emergency, that is appalling policy that is inevitably geared towards putting human lives at risk,” said Mr Faughnan, whose organisation has long opposed the charges.

He believes that while there is no reluctance on behalf of insurance companies to pay, members of the public are acutely aware of the fee regime, and recounted anecdotes of “neighbours not wanting to call the fire brigade” for a gorse fire in Donegal in case their home had to foot the bill.