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Government rejects Cowen's Irish Water charges exemption bill

Cowen had tabled a bill aimed at allowing some people 100% exemption from Irish Water charges.

Fianna Fail Water Charges Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

AN IRISH WATER Bill tabled by Deputy Barry Cowen of Fianna Fáil has been rejected by Minister Alan Kelly.

The Private Members Bill, Water Services (Exempt Charges) Bill 2014, would have:

entitled an Act to make provision whereby an owner of a dwelling shall not be charged for water provided to him or her by Irish Water in circumstances where the water being provided is either subject to a boiled water notice or is contaminated by a negative condition and such owner shall remain exempt from having to pay water charges for the period such notice remains or such contamination exists.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Minister Kelly said the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides Irish Water with the statutory power to charge customers for the water services provided.

Charges for water services are to be calculated by Irish Water in its water charges plan. This is subject to the approval of the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Discount on water charges

The then-Minister for the Environment Deputy Phil Hogan, issued a direction to the CER on 2 July 2014. Kelly pointed out that the direction provides:

that the Commission should make provision for circumstances where the quality of water services provided by Irish Water to customers is impaired or where services are reduced or restricted, for example, where there is a boil water notice in place.

He said that the CER proposals are more favourable to the customer than the proposals submitted by the Irish Water, “who had sought that the 100% discount should only apply where the period involved is over six months, rather than three months”.

I understand that, following the public consultation process, the CER is now further considering the approach to compensating households, where the water supply is not fit for human consumption.

Boil water areas

Kelly said that all of the households on 18 of the 20 public water supplies, including all eight supplies in Roscommon, affected by a boil water notice would be eligible to receive a 100% discount on their water supply bill from Irish Water, which is as indicated in the documents published by the CER.

Kelly said that if confirmed when the water charges plan is published shortly, “as such, any customers that have on a Boil Water Notice or a Drinking Water Notice three months prior to the commencement of water charges on 1st October 2014, will not pay for their water supply.”

Cowen’s bill aimed to amend the provisions of section 21 of the Water Services to provide that:

Irish Water shall not charge a customer for the provision of water services to his or her dwelling in circumstances where the water being provided to the dwelling is either –
(a) Subject to a boiled water notice; or(b) Contaminated by a negative water condition or(c) Both (a) and (b)

But Kelly said that it is clear that the legislative and administrative processes already in place, “provide the basis for addressing the compensation of customers affected by a water supply that does not comply with the statutory standards”.

“For this reason, the Government cannot support the Bill tabled by Deputy Cowen,” said Kelly.

“Flawed” proposal

The CER is proposing to address the level of time that the supply was impaired for, and to address the issue in relation to the water supply element of the charge.

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The water charges plan covers the charges for both water supply services and waste water services.

The majority of Irish Water’s customers will receive both a water supply and waste water services. But a proportion may only receive a water supply or a waste water service.

Kelly said that this is an area where the Bill tabled by the Deputy is “flawed” – as it covers all water charges:

An exemption from all water charges is proposed by this Bill, and this ignores that the fact that the provision of a waste water service by Irish Water is not affected by any issue relating to the water supply.

The CER is due to announce the approved water charges plan for Irish Water towards the end of this month.

Cowen’s response

The Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Environment, Cowen said:

The Government needs to wake up to the reality facing thousands of families across the country. They cannot afford unfair water charges, particularly where thousands of households cannot even safely drink their water.

He described as “spin” from Government the statement that water bills will be broken into different elements and there may be some relief on some parts of the bill.

Read: Here’s what the Taoiseach has to say about Irish Water and your PPS number>

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