Majority should not have to pay water charges, says commission

Group says enshrining Irish Water in public ownership should be considered

An allowance for domestic water use should be calculated on the basis of the number of people living in the home, the commission on water charges has said.

Under its proposals, the commission says the “vast majority” of people will no longer have to pay water charges.

The final report of the Expert Commission on Domestic Public Water Services, which was established in June by then minister for the environment Simon Coveney, was published on Tuesday and will now be considered by a special Oireachtas committee.

It also says the commission is "satisfied" its recommendations will comply with European Union law and water directives.

The commission questions the rollout of water meters, which cost more than €500 million to install,and says that a referendum enshrining Irish Water in public ownership should be considered.

The final report says normal water usage for households should be paid through general taxation, with a charge being levied for “wasteful” usage.

“Water is essential for human life,” it says. “It is expensive to produce water for consumption, to treat wastewater, and to renew infrastructure. Therefore, water services must be paid for – through taxation, tariffs, or some combination of both.”

It adds, however: “Not having a specific charge for water does not mean that water does not have to be paid for by the citizen.

“Having considered various options and the background to the current situation, the expert commission has reached the conclusion that the optimal arrangement that should now be put in place is one that involves the funding of water services, for normal domestic and personal use, as a charge against taxation. The system should be predicated on an acceptance that access to adequate clean water for living requirements should not be determined by affordability.

“A distinction must, however, be made between a right to water for normal domestic and personal purposes and wasteful usage. The former can reasonably be regarded as a public service that should be funded out of taxation and which the State should provide for all citizens. Where water is used at a level above those normal requirements, that principle is no longer applicable and the user should pay for this use through tariffs.”

Each home will receive an allowance “that corresponds to the accepted level of usage required for domestic and personal needs. This allowance should be related to the number of persons resident in the household and adjusted for special conditions.”

Normal use

Two options for determining normal use should be considered. One is that “the standard uses for domestic water consumption relate to personal washing, toilet flushing, drinking, cooking, clothes washing, dishwashing, waste disposal, and house cleaning”.

“A more detailed analysis should be carried out to establish the precise levels of allowance to be made available, based on analysis of consumption patterns for different occupancy households.”

Another approach would be to “ determine the level of water required for normal domestic and personal needs by reference to current per capita usage adjusted to reflect estimated excessive or wasteful use”.

"On this model, an allowance could be set at a level that corresponds to the actual consumption of a significant proportion of water users (say, for illustrative purposes, 80-90 per cent of users or at, say, 150 per cent of average domestic consumption). The allowance could be regularly reviewed and, if necessary, adjusted to reflect changes in water use patterns in Ireland. "

On the issue of water meters, it says: “While benefits have accrued from the metering programme already undertaken in detecting leaks and monitoring patters of water usage, the question of whether to continue the metering programme in one of policy and is outside the Expert Commission’s terms of reference. If it is decided to proceed with the metering programme, consideration should be given to an approach that is more aligned with the proposals in this report, with a focus on metering of buildings in the case of multi-occupancy, or metering of households on request.”

It also raises the prospect of higher taxes to pay for this method of funding of water services.

“The recommended funding model, if implemented, will place the main burden of financing the operational costs of providing domestic water services on the exchequer to be paid for through taxation. The question of whether there should be a dedicated tax, a broadly-based fiscal instrument, or an adjustment to existing taxes to fund this requirement would be a matter of budgetary policy and outside the scope of this report, but is worthy of further consideration.”

Special exemptions for those with medical conditions and others who require “high water usage should be maintained”.