FF-FG agreement on water charges yet to be applied

Delay in implementing the charge has been attributed to the change of government and to Covid

An agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to impose water charges on households which use excessive amounts has not yet been implemented 3½ years after it was agreed in late 2017.

The introduction of domestic water charges was a major issue in the 2016 general election, and dominated the confidence-and-supply negotiations between both parties.

An all-party committee agreed that there would be no domestic water charges. However. in the face of warnings that the EU Commission would issue enforcement proceedings if water charges were abolished permanently, a last-minute compromise between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael agreed that households which used more than 1.7 times the average household use of 345 litres a day would be subject to excessive-use charges.

When implemented that would result in as many as 80,000 households (out of 1.5 million) facing water charges of up to €500 if they exceeded 213,000 litres per annum.

In 2019 the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities approved the proposal submitted to it by Irish Water to charge households found to have excessive use of water. Under the timeline set out the first bills for excessive use were due to be issued in early 2021.

Draft regulations

However, the Department of Housing has yet to finalise the draft regulations setting out the administrative arrangements. This is mainly directed at customers who seek additional allowance amounts based on household size or an exemption based on medical need.

“The department is currently finalising the proposed regulations for consideration by the Minister and signature into law if appropriate,” a spokeswoman said.

She added that the objective was to encourage conservation of water supplies, signalling that bills will be introduced as a last step.

“The initial focus will involve the monitoring of water usage, issuing of early warning letters and supporting households to address the reasons for excess use. Customers who fail to address their situation would then face the imposition of the excess-use levy in due course.”

The current programme for government places a strong focus on conserving water supplies, including a commitment to implementing excessive-usage charges for domestic customers of Irish Water.

The Irish Water proposal was for a charge of €1.85 for every 1,000 litres used above the threshold (213,000 litres per year) with the charge capped at €250. There is a similar charge for waste-water services, again with a cap of €250. Any residence that uses both fresh-water services and waste-water services would be liable to a charge of up to €500.

Less than 1 million (about 60 per cent) of domestic dwellings in Ireland have meters. For the 40 per cent of unmetered homes, Irish Water has proposed an investigation process to identify which homes are using excess water.

Political conflict

The delay in implementing the charges has been attributed to the change of government and to Covid. However, the Sinn Féin spokesman on housing Eoin Ó Broin said on Thursday night that he believed domestic water charges would never be introduced.

“My clear understanding is that Irish Water never wanted this charge. It would drag them back into a political conflict that they have worked so hard to extract themselves from.”

He said the agreement reached was a political contrivance between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and that it was not going to be implemented. He said that existing laws already provided for sanctioning people who were wilfully wasting water.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times