Turning on the tap tax – what the water charges will mean for you

Q&A: A look at the finer details of Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s announcement

A household of two adults and two children will be expected to go through 208,000 litres of water annually

A household of two adults and two children will be expected to go through 208,000 litres of water annually


Details of the tap tax have been announced then?
Yes, and not before time. While most details of the water charge were widely leaked (sorry) before his press conference, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan still had some surprises up his sleeve, although not many to cheer about. The top line is that the average homeowner will be hit with an annual water charge of €240 in 2015 and 2016, with bills starting to fall through letter boxes next January.

There is no standing charge though?
True. Plans to include a standing charge of €50 a year were abandoned after weeks of wrangling between Labour and Fine Gael. The charge has not been scrapped entirely, mind you. A minimum charge may be applied to holiday homes and other properties that are not permanently occupied.

What is this charge going to be?
We don’t know. The precise details of all the charges will not be finalised until August after the Commission for Energy Regulation has concluded negotiations on a pricing structure with Irish Water.

But there is going to be a free allowance, isn’t there?
There is, but don’t rush out and water the grass or wash the car just yet. Homeowners will be given a free water allowance of 30,000 litres each year under the proposals, while a further free annual allocation of 38,000 litres will be given for each child.

That sounds like a lot of water. Is it?
Not really. A typical power shower uses about 80 litres of water a go so if you have just one every day, your free allocation for the year will be completely used up before you have so much as flushed a toilet – 10 litres – or boiled the kettle for a cup of tea – two litres. Mr Hogan claimed the 30,000 litre annual allowance was “generous”, but it is substantially less than the amount used by the average household of 2.7 people. The average person uses about 52,000 litres of water each year and a household of two adults and two children will be expected to go through 208,000 litres of water annually. All told, this family will be given an allowance of about 106,000, or barely half what they need.

What about the leaky pipes? Who will fix them?
That depends on when and where they are found. Mr Hogan said a portion of the €200 million allocated for Irish Water’s capital investment over next two years will be used to fund a “free first fix” system.

A what?
If a leak is found in the pipes on your property, the utility will fix it once and once only at no cost to you. This is to stop you calling Joe Duffy to complain about having to “bear the cost of legacy issues” or pipes which have been leaking for years. After the first leak is fixed, you are on your own and will have to bear the cost of finding and fixing any leaks.

How will I know if there are leaks?
Mr Hogan said yesterday that once the metering system is in place, people will be able to detect leaks easily. All a householder will have to do is check the meter last thing at night and then first thing the following morning. If water has been used in that period in significant volumes, then the chances are there is a leak.

But I don’t have a meter.
You should have one soon (ish). According to the Minister, an accelerated metering programme will see them installed in about 80 per cent of homes by the middle of 2016. The Department of the Environment is also said to be exploring the potential to include a new phase of metering of 48,000 apartments. The metering is important because multiple studies show 16 per cent less water is used when metered.

What if I live in somewhere without a meter?
Your charges will be assessed based on average usage.

I am on a group water scheme. What happens to me?

You will have to pay the charges too as group water schemes get a subvention from the State. The Department of the Environment is to consult with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes on arrangements for this sector in the weeks ahead.

What are the chances of the charges increasing?
Mr Hogan declined to speculate on what would happen once the first phase of the water charges roll-out is concluded at the end 2016. International studies would suggest that a charge of €240 a year is on the low side. The average annual bill in the UK is €550, while German water charges can run to more than €700. Don’t be surprised if the charges double soon after the next election.

I live in an area where the water is undrinkable. Surely I won’t have to pay the full whack?
No. According to Mr Hogan, Irish Water will have to take into account the quality of services provided to customers with discounts offered to people who live in areas where there are boil water notices – at present such notices are in operation in about 23,000 homes.

Will people on limited means be given free water?
No, but they will be able to apply for aid from the Department of Social Protection, which will see their bills effectively halved. Charges will also be capped for people with high water usage due to certain medical conditions, including those on home kidney dialysis.

What if I don’t pay my bill? They can’t just cut me off?
No. What will happen is your water pressure will be reduced to a trickle. It will be enough to drink and keep your house fairly clean but that’ll be it.