Another Q&A about Irish Water? Seriously? Have we not been here before? Yes, yes we have. This is the fifth water-based Q&A we've done in just six months. Blame the Government and blame Irish Water – they keep changing the answers. And the questions.
Where did it all go wrong? A standalone water charge has been in the pipeline since John Gormley was Minister for the Environment. It gathered steam this year when it emerged the start-up costs for Irish Water would be almost €200 million. There was then a controversy over consultants and staff bonuses and a row over a €50 standing charge. In May, Phil Hogan announced an average charge of €240, with homeowners getting 30,000 "free" litres a year. Children were to get 38,000 "free" litres.
What happened next? In July provisional pricing was published. One adult would pay €176 with each extra adult in a home paying €102. Charges would be capped for the first six months, after which metering would kick in at just under half a cent a litre. The children's allowance fell from 38,000 to 21,000 litres.
So that was that? Hardly. Concern about charges mounted as did concern over the utility's ill- explained demand for PPS numbers. Meters started malfunctioning. There was confusion between landlords and tenants over who'd pay and questions about what would happen to those who didn't pay went unanswered. Registrations slowed and protests started. In October over 50,000 people marched through Dublin and over twice that number marched in cities, towns and villages across the State.
Where are we now? Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has announced households made up of two adults or more will have to pay €160 a year – a figure that includes a €100 water conservation grant that will only be applied if people register with Irish Water. Single adult households will pay an effective €60 rate.
The charges will be capped until January 1st, 2019, and legislation has been promised to allow for capped charges to continue after that. The metered charge has also been reduced from just under 0.5c a litre to 0.37 cent. If a house has just a water supply or only a sewage service they will pay 50 per cent of the new rates.
What's a water conservation grant? It's €100. The Department of Social Protection will administer it. It will not be operational until September next. To be eligible, householders with any element of public water/ sewage water supply or on group water schemes or with private supplies – must complete a valid registration with Irish Water.
So €60 or €160 is a lot less than planned? It is. It means Ireland will have one of Europe's lowest water charges regimes. What about the Irish Water staff bonuses? They will not be paid any bonuses for 2014 and the entire pay structure is to be reviewed.
What about the metering? About 500,000 houses have meters. The metering programme will continue although the imperative is not so great now as the assessed charge will stay in place for at least three years.
I have a meter, is it useless? No. If you are on a meter and use less water than the assessed charge you can get a rebate. Alan Kelly said that if metered households cut use by 10-15 per cent they will be able to "beat the cap". If consumption in the first year after a meter is installed is less than the capped charge, a once-off rebate on the amount they paid before moving to a meter will be applied. This will be calculated by Irish Water.
If my water is unfit for consumption, must I pay for it? No. If your water is undrinkable you get an immediate 50 per cent discount on your bills. You won't have to pay for your drinking water but you will still have to pay for waste water facilities.
I have registered with Irish Water, so what do I do now? You probably don't need to do anything unless you have a child under 18 who was not in receipt of child benefit. Then you will need to amend your details because all children under 18 now qualify for the child allowance. This can be done from the start of 2015.
But they have my PPS number? They do but Irish Water will have to delete it. It is agreeing a protocol with the Data Protection Commissioner on this. The process will be independently verified.
And if I haven't registered? The deadline now is February 2nd next. You can register at www.water.ie or by returning the revised application form downloadable from www.water.ie. You can also register by phone from next Monday.
But if I don't register? A household that does not register will get a default bill for €260 each year and they will not be entitled to the €100 conservation grant.
And if I refuse to pay? The power Irish Water had to reduce the supply of water where water charges are not paid is being removed. Instead, unless the customer enters into a payment plan, late payment penalties of €30 for a single adult household and €60 for other households will be added to bills three months following a year of non-payment. If someone does not pay, Irish Water can apply the charge to a property in the event of non-payment.
When will my first bill arrive? The billing period will now begin in January, with first bills not arriving until April.
There was confusion over leaks, what's the story now? Irish Water's "First Fix Free" scheme to fix customer leaks from their front gate to as close as possible to the dwelling is still in place. If, in future, householders have an internal leak they will do what they always did – call a plumber.
There was also confusion over who pays in the rental sector. The occupier pays the bill. Irish Water wants landlords to prove that they are not the occupier by supplying the tenant's name. Then Irish Water will then contact the tenant and demand they complete the registration. And what about fears over privatisation? The Minister said he would legislate to ensure that if any future government sought to privatise Irish Water it could only do so via a plebiscite.
Now that charges have fallen, how will our water be paid for? The Government will have to increase the subsidy. And where will that money come from? We will pay it.