IRISH HOUSEHOLDS will see their first charges for metered water usage in January 2014, far ahead of the schedule outlined by environment minister Phil Hogan earlier this year, according to a leaked report from the European Commission.
A formula for deciding how much users will be charged is to be development over the course of 2013, with full charges being implemented from January 1 the following year.
In April, Hogan said he didn’t expect households to start receiving bills for the water charges until “by the end of 2014″ – though it now appears that this has been rushed forward.
The leaked document – a draft edition of the Commission’s staff report following the last inspection of Ireland’s bailout progress in June – says Irish authorities briefed the Brussels inspectors on their strategy for setting up Irish Water, the body which will be responsible for collecting the charges.
The report says a “detailed implementation strategy” presented by the Department of the Environment outlined how legislation setting up Irish Water would be enacted “in the third quarter of this year”.
This suggests that legislation setting up the new body, which will be initially established as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis, will be one of the top items on the agenda when the Dáil reconvenes on September 18, and that the legislation will be pushed through the Oireachtas as a priority.
Hogan had previously said the necessary legislation would not be introduced until some time next year.
A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said this afternoon, however, that the full implementation strategy for water charges had not been brought to Cabinet for agreement by ministers – suggesting the indicated timetable had not been finalised.
The Department pointed to last week’s formal update to Ireland’s Troika arrangement, which merely said Ireland had “agreed on a detailed, time-bound implementation plan for the transfer of water service provision to Irish Water”.
Similarly, a spokesman for the European Commission said the edition of the report which had been leaked had not yet been given its final formal approval.
The report is said to have been given to some TDs yesterday.
Meters to be installed this time next year
The report also outlines that a procurement process for finding suppliers for the meters will follow in 2013 – with installation beginning in the third quarter of that year.
If the January 2014 timetable is to be met, the installation of the meters will need to be quicker than previously anticipated: the government had previously expected to have almost two years to have meters installed in Ireland’s homes.
Earlier this year the Department had said only about 300,000 Irish homes had access to their own domestic wells – meaning the remaining 1.5 millon-or-so homes would need to have their wells installed within months.
An alternative is that households may continue to be charged on a uniform basis, irrespective of their actual water usage, until the meters have been installed.
This raises more difficulties, though, given that the current interim Household Charge – which is conceived as incorporating both a property tax and water charges – is being scrapped from next year, with the property tax coming in under the next Budget.
This could lead to the situation where houses have been charged for water use in 2012, and will be again from 2014 onward, but not in 2013. The report’s timetable for establishing a pricing model in 2013 appears to hamper a flat-rate charge being introduced for next year.