Water charges Q&A: Will I get my money back?

Those who paid fees likely to get refund, while those who did not will not be pursued

After the general elecion last year water charges were suspended until April 1st 2017, giving time for the government to decide the best course of action for the ill-fated utility.

This week, a Dáil committee will meet to examine the future of water service funding in the State.

They will agree the contents of its final report, which is to be sent to the Dáil in time for a vote on its findings on March 13th.

It is understood that consensus has been reached on a number of issues, including returning money to those who paid their bills - but will you get your money back?


Will water charges be reintroduced?

At this point, it is unlikely. The Oireachtas committee has yet to reach a final decision but the majority of members are opposed to a charging regime.

This includes charging householders who use excessive amounts of water.

So what happens to those who paid their charges?

Good news. It appears you will get your money back. If you paid your five bills in total and live alone, you will be entitled to € 200.

If you paid your five bills in total and live in a household of more than one person, you could be entitled to €325.

What happens if you claimed the €100 conservation grant from the Department of Social Protection?

Well here is where it could get tricky. Fianna Fáil believes those who claimed the grant should have that offset against the refunds.

However, considering the bills were paid to Irish Water and the grant distributed from the Department of Social Protection this could be a logistical nightmare and could cost more in the long run.

How much will this cost and where will the money come from?

The Government has estimated €240 million has been generated from water charges since their implementation.

However if the conservation grant is deducted from that the final bill for refunding householders will be €80 million. The conservation grant cost €160 million.

The source of that money has yet to be identified but Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has pointed to improved tax receipts as a source for the money.

What about those who did not pay their charges?

They will not be pursued. If they claimed the conservation grant, they are unlikely to be pursued for that cost either.

What now for meters?

The universal metering programme is likely to be discontinued but members are examining a number of options including allowing people to choose to have a meter installed or installing meters in all new builds.

Will this meet the requirements under European Union law?

The Water Framework Directive insists that the polluter pays principle is upheld and that there is a system in place to allow for the “recovery of costs” for the provision of water services.

The European Union has also insisted a derogation that previously applied to the State no longer exists.

On that basis, the committee’s recommendation that there is no charging regime may jar with the European position.

Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have both provided legal advice to the committee insisting scrapping water charges will comply with the directive.

If the State is found to be in breach of European law, the EU may take action and could impose fines.