IRISH WATER HAS seen a surge in customers cancelling direct debits since the general election, as the future of water charges and the utility itself is thrown into doubt, TheJournal.ie can reveal.
With water charges understood to be at the heart of negotiations over the formation of a new government, thousands of Irish Water customers are understood to have stopped paying during the fourth billing cycle.
A well-placed government source told TheJournal.ie Irish Water had indicated to them that cancellations may even be running into the tens of thousands since the general election.
And sources in one of Ireland’s leading banks confirmed that since the weekend of the general election, there has been a significant rise in customers seeking to cancel their Irish Water direct debits.
That includes a “notable increase” in the number of letters arriving to the bank every morning, as well as customers visiting the bank “on a daily basis” to cancel Irish Water direct debits in person.
A spokesperson for Irish Water told TheJournal.ie there had been “no indication of mass cancellation of direct debits by our customers in the past week.”
However, they added:
Early indications are that a very small proportion of direct debit customers have opted to discontinue this payment option in that period.
We asked Irish Water for exact figures, but they did not provide them.
The spokesperson disputed that a large number of customers have cancelled their direct debits.
“Irish Water is still in the process of issuing bills in our fourth billing cycle,” they said.
While we can only provide a complete and accurate assessment of payment levels based on a full billing cycle, there is certainly no indication of mass cancellation of direct debits by our customers in the past week.
A poll earlier this week found that almost half of the public (49%) do not intend to pay their next water bill.
Some 55% of people now believe the charges should be scrapped, according to a poll carried out on Monday for TheJournal.ie by RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live and Amárach Research.
In January, Irish Water said that 928,000 customers (or 61% of their customer base) had paid their bill in at least one of the three cycles up to that point.
Tonight’s revelation will come as a further blow to the future of water charges, with Fianna Fáil pledging in their election manifesto to abolish them, and widespread speculation that the party will insist on scrapping them in any talks with Fine Gael over the formation of a new government.
In today’s first day of proceedings in the new Dáil, Sinn Féin unsuccessfully attempted to ensure that there would be a vote future of water charges the next time the Dáil meets.
Last week, Agriculture and Defence Minister Simon Coveney was forced to backtrack in the past week after saying on RTE’s Prime Time that Fine Gael would be “willing to talk about” the charges, in negotiations.
Additional reporting by Hugh O’Connell.