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Government working to refund water charges - but it could be done over a few years

Cabinet agreed to give priority to the drafting of the Water Services Bill 2017 today.

REFUNDS ARE ON the cards for those that paid their water charges, but the practicalities of returning the cash is currently being worked out by two government departments and Irish Water.

Today, the government agreed to give priority to the drafting of the Water Services Bill 2017 (the legislation which will give effect to the recommendations contained in the Oireachtas Committee report on water charges).

The proposed draft law will give Irish Water the power to make refund payments to those that paid their water charges since their introduction on 1 January 2015.

However, how and when the refunds will land in people’s accounts is still being worked out.

It’s understood the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and Irish Water are currently discussing the cost and implementation of refunds.

It’s estimated refunds could cost up to €162 million, with one government source stating that any provision for refunds would have to be considered on a budgetary basis.

Due to cost and the impact it could have on October’s Budget, one source said the idea of making refunds on a phased basis over two years or more is currently being considered.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie last week, Housing Minister Simon Coveney would not be pressed on when water refunds will be delivered in full.

I need to work with Pascal Donohoe [Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform] to ensure we can pay the refunds in a manner and a timeline that doesn’t result in us having to take money from other sources…

As part of his leadership bid, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters last week that the money to pay out on refunds would be found this year.

However, Coveney said it all comes down to affordability.

We’ll have to wait and see when we can afford to do it. There is a commitment to do it and we need sensible decision-making instead of trying to curry favour during a leadership contest.

Under the proposed new law, the domestic water charges regime as we know it will be discontinued.

In addition, any outstanding liabilities for water charges will be extinguished and the late payment charges will cease.

It is anticipated that the Bill will be published in June and introduced to the Oireachtas immediately thereafter.

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