Ireland moves to reassure the EU on water charges regime
80,000 households expected to face annual charge of up to €500 for excessive use
“The purpose of the excessive use charge is to incentivise the fixing of leaks and the conservation of water. The excessive usage charge will apply to households that use an excessive amount of water.” File photograph: Getty
Ireland has moved to reassure the European Commission that it is adhering to EU rules around water conservation through a new excess charging regime.
In a letter to the commission’s director general for environment, Daniel Calleja, Irish ambassador Joe Hackett defended the new regime as “sensible”, “equitable” and “proportionate”.
The issue of water charges dominated the confidence-and-supply negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in 2016 and a special all-party Oireachtas committee later agreed to end the charges.
However, in a last-minute compromise between the parties, it was agreed that households using water above a fixed threshold would be charged for excess use. That threshold was 1.7 times the average household use of 345 litres a day.
With the cost of normal domestic water services being met from public funds, this is a sensible, equitable and proportionate approach
Mr Hackett, who is Ireland’s deputy permanent representative to the EU, wrote to Mr Calleja in March and outlined how the Government planned to ensure compliance with the European water framework directive. It requires Ireland to impose domestic charges as a water-conservation measure.
In the letter, Mr Hackett writes that: “The purpose of the excessive use charge is to incentivise the fixing of leaks and the conservation of water. The excessive usage charge will apply to households that use an excessive amount of water.
“With the cost of normal domestic water services being met from public funds, this is a sensible, equitable and proportionate approach.
“The charge places responsibility on domestic customers to contribute to the cost of consuming above the annual allowance, or to reduce their consumption to avoid the charge.
Providing a disincentive
“The excess usage charge will promote conservation by providing a disincentive for customers to waste water, thus reducing the costs associated with providing domestic water services.”
Mr Hackett said the provisions would apply to “all households on public water supplies, whether metered or not”.
Under the new regime, it is expected that about 80,000 households will face an annual charge of up to €500 for excessive use of water.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities sanctioned a proposal by Irish Water to impose a charge of €1.85 on customers for every 1,000 litres consumed above their annual household allowance.
However, households identified as using excessive levels of water will have 12 months to address possible leaks and change their consumption patterns before receiving a bill.
The first bills are not scheduled to be issued until early 2021.
Separately, it has also emerged that Irish Water has been told to cut its costs by more than €100 million.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities has found that the cost for supplying water are up to 42 per cent higher than those of similar firms in Britain.