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Dublin: 5°C Wednesday 25 November 2020
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Water charges a step too far for jobseekers

Charity, St Vincent de Paul is worried that adults without children won’t be able to afford water as there are no extra allowances for them.

Phil Hogan announcing the plans for water charges earlier this month.
Phil Hogan announcing the plans for water charges earlier this month.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

A CHARITY HAS warned that water charges will be a bill too many for adult-only households with one or more jobseekers.

St Vincent de Paul has expressed its concerns over the government’s failure to provide an extra allowance or related welfare payments to low-income groups.

Highlighting its concerns this week, the organisation said that adults looking for work – or those on low pay – who have no children “could find themselves experiencing affordability problems”.

According to SVP, they will not be cushioned by additional free units or payments but are “expected to meet the cost of water charges at the same level that a household of high income dual earners will be charged”.

The idea of introducing extra welfare payments or waivers for those on social welfare was a sticking point in the row between coalition parties, Labour and Fine Gael, as they wrangled to come up with an agreement on water charges.

Fine Gael won that battle and the current state of play is that those on social welfare or low incomes pay the same as everybody else.

SVP says this is “of particular concern” because of continued high unemployment across the country.

The charity is also particularly concerned about what will happen in 2016 when the government stops bankrolling Irish Water.

“This will expose the domestic consumer to much higher water charges to households than those currently being considered,” it claims.

People and families on low and fixed incomes will find themselves in an extremely difficult situation from 2017 onwards as they are expected to meet ratcheting water charges.

SVP has made its opinion on the matter clear in a submission to the Commission for Energy Regulation which will regulate the sector and approve (or disallow) price increases.

It has also called for the consultation period on water charges to be extended, and more information provided to the public in order for consultees to meaningfully feed into the process.

The not-for-profit has told the regulator:

Without such information there are far too many variables for consultees to try and reach meaningful conclusions.  While the obligation is on CER to decide the tariff rate the conflicting approaches of government and Irish Water to pricing makes this decision very difficult.

Prior to the government’s announcement SVP wrote directly to the Minister for the Environment calling for the publication of research that his Department commissioned by the ESRI on water affordability in Ireland.

It was never made public.

According to the government, those on social welfare and low incomes who are experiencing financial difficulties may apply for €100 in assistance under the Household Benefits Package, which will be extended to cover water costs.

If payment is not made, water pressure and supply will be reduced in households.

Minor protests continue to pop up in estates across the country as Irish Water staff roll in. Gardaí have warned protesters that they could be subject to arrests for interfering with the work of the employees.

On Tuesday, hunger striker Tony Rochford was detained and brought to a local garda station in Trim, county Meath for obstructing the Irish Water vehicles. He was bailed and will appear before court on public order charges next week.

Opinion: With such a meagre allowance, our new water charges can’t be about conservation 

More: First arrest for blocking water meter installation

See: What will your water allowance of 30,000 litres get you?

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