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Government yet to make final decision as to when water charges will be refunded

Officials are in negotiations with the EU for a special deal to pay around €160 million in water charge refunds.

THE GOVERNMENT IS in negotiations with the European Commission for a a special deal to pay around €160 million in water charge refunds.

Officials are asking the Commission if a “one-off” payment under European Union fiscal spending rules would be allowed.

The issue of water charges has dominated the headlines for the last number of years.

After more than 20 meetings on the issue, an Oireachtas committee agreed that those who have paid and those that have not paid should be treated equally.

Therefore, refunds are on the cards for those that paid their water charges. Since the committee delivered its report, water charges have been suspended.

Refunds

One of the key questions people have since the publication of the report is – when will there be refunds for those who paid?

During the Fine Gael leadership contest, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he wanted refunds to be doled out “as soon as possible” mentioning that he would like it to be done this year.

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.

October’s Budget 

Outlining the government’s summer economic statement (which basically gives an indication of how much money we get to spend in the next Budget), the Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said there was about €300 million in additional spending this year.

Will refunds be given this year then? Well, the minister doesn’t seem to know, as he is still talking to the EU.

“We have not, as of yet, made a final decision in relation to how we are going to manage that,” he said, adding:

I will make one call as to where we are this year and next year and I will do that nearer to Budget day. And when I have done that I will then be in a position to know what are the resources for this year to deal with that matter and I will also be clear on that point as to how that can be dealt with from an accounting point of view.
I can’t give any indication before that as we are in those negotiations at the moment with the EU Commission.

Water legislation

In May, 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, while the legislation was expected to be ready before the summer, it is now not going to be completed until later this year.

This is one of the reasons for the delay in refunds, Donohoe said today.

When the legislation is ready, Donohoe said he will “then deal with how we handle that water issue. Of course by the time we get that point we will also be clearer on the performance of the economy for this full year and how that is likely to effect next year”.

“I want to ensure that any decision I make on matters like water… are made when I am clear on the overall performance of the economy in the year,” said the minister.

Read: Government working to refund water charges – but it could be done over a few years>

FactFind: How much water do we actually use?>

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