'Comprehensive' changes to water rates considered

Taoiseach says new charges package to be announced in coming weeks

The assessed water charge is set at €176 for the first adult, with an extra €102 per additional adult in the home

The assessed water charge is set at €176 for the first adult, with an extra €102 per additional adult in the home

 

The Government is preparing an additional package of “comprehensive” changes to the water charging system, to be announced in the coming weeks, in an effort to blunt the political damage to Fine Gael and Labour.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Government would provide clarity “in the next few weeks”, while Tánaiste Joan Burton told the Dáil the original timeline for water charges was “too ambitious”.

With the Government set to cap water bills at a fixed rate in order to provide certainty – with speculation the freeze could be in place until late 2016, when the majority of meters have been installed – TDs and Senators have raised the issue of families with adult children living at home.

There is concern among Government TDs that some families fear they will face annual bills running towards €800 or €900.

The issue was raised at parliamentary party meetings earlier this week.

Assessed charges – a fixed rate based on the number of occupants per home – apply in homes where meters have yet to be installed. But all homes will have their bills capped at the assessed rate until next summer, even those with meters.

Exact usage

The mooted freeze would extend this cap out for a number of years while still showing those with meters their exact water usage so they can get used to full metering.

The assessed charge is set at €176 for the first adult, with an extra €102 per additional adult in the home. This would mean a family with two dependent adult children would face an annual bill of €482. Children under 18 will not be charged for water, as per Government commitments made earlier this year.

Discussions have already taken place at the Economic Management Council (EMC) on additional water charges measures, with an announcement expected in the coming weeks.

While changes for parents of dependent children still living in the home are in play, sources stressed no details or measures have been finalised. However, any changes are likely to focus on the €102 rate for additional adults rather than any additional tax or welfare proposals.

Wider reductions

While there have been suggestions there could be wider reductions to the assessed rates, a number of sources said such a move is unlikely.

Discussions are still at an early stage, with various ideas being tested to ensure they are financially viable and do not threaten the current arrangement whereby most of Irish Water’s spending and borrowing is kept off State balance sheets for the purpose of judging EU targets.

However, Ministers say they will not be bounced into any new moves by another planned water charge protest. The scale of the water protest earlier this month, which an estimated 50,000 people attended, shocked Government figures and another march is planned for November 1st.

“They know they only have one shot at it, and have to get it right,” a Minister said. “There is a feeling they are not going to rush it.”

A senior Minister also said work on the package was ongoing, adding it could be announced after the protest.

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