The Coalition is considering extending the period during which households will pay an effective fixed rate water charge to allow for the further installation of water meters, and to allow homeowners control their water usage.
Assessed charges – a fixed rate based on the number of occupants per household – currently 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.
While water charges began at the start of this month, all homes, including those with meters installed, will have their bills capped at the assessed rate for nine months.
Irish Water last night said "over 455,000 meters have been installed around the country to date" , claiming this beat the target of 450,000 set for the end of the year.
Some 1.06 million will be installed by mid-2016, the company added. No figures are available for the final number of homes to have meters and those, such as apartments, that will make do without.
A senior Coalition source said extending this period is now under serious consideration “for a number of reasons, including to advance metering”. A separate source said the move being discussed is “more to give people certainty on their bills for longer”.
The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) was asked at the Oireachtas environment committee if the assessed charge could be extended for all homes to 2016, though the timeframe being discussed by Government is not yet known.
Minister for Communications Alex White and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly attended the Economic Management Council to discuss issues around water charges.
It is also understood that measures to increase compliance with water charges are being discussed, with one source saying “the issue of compliance will be looked at in due course”.
Water charges and water metering was also discussed at Cabinet, and the Taoiseach expressed his confidence in Irish Water managing director John Tierney afterwards.
Mr Tierney attended a meeting of the board of Ervia – Irish Water’s parent company, renamed from
– yesterday, but the company would not say afterwards if its chairwoman
or chief executive Michael McNicholas had confidence in Mr Tierney, claiming they never provide such comments.
The Oireachtas environment committee also heard yesterday that the first bills from Irish Water could be delayed by up to a month if the Commission for Energy Regulation grants the company an extension to the sign-up period for customers.
CER commissioner Paul McGowan said a decision would be taken later this week on extending the deadline.
Mr McGowan also told the committee that the CER, which set the price Irish Water will charge for water used, has not approved the call-out charges customers will face when leaks emerge or repairs are necessary.
Irish Water confirmed at the weekend it is to apply call-out fees of €188 for the first hour when repairing a suspected leak on a residence and €94 an hour thereafter. A Government spokesman also said he expected changes would be made to these proposals.