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Water bills could be delayed as energy regulator looks at deadline

The Commission for Energy Regulation also stressed that call-out charges have not yet been finalised.

Image: water via Shutterstock

Updated 10.05pm

THE COMMISSION FOR Energy Regulation has today stressed that Irish Water call-out charges have not been been formally approved, and flagged that they are ‘concerning’.

The group also noted that that customers are entitled to a ’60-day look back rule’ – your allowance will begin a month prior to registration.

“Even if somebody does not validate or register with Irish Water, they will not lose out on their allowance as long as they do so by the end of November,” Commissioner Paul McGowan told an Oireachtas committee.

He added that CER is looking at whether or not the official date for signing up to Irish Water should be ‘redefined’.

This means that there may be a delay of as long as one month in issuing the first water bills, as customers may not have to sign up until the end of November.

McGowan also flagged that postal applications may not be delivered in time.

Irish Water confirmed at the weekend that it has proposed a €188 call-out charge for people whose pipes are leaking.

The price would also include a €282 out-of-hours call-out fee, with an extra €141 an hour.

It would also see Irish Water charging €220 to test water pressure and €17 for a special meter reading.

McGowan said that CER “has expressed concerns” at these costs.

“We have not approved those charges,” he said, adding that public consultation will begin in the next couple of months before the charges are finalised by the regulator.

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McGowan also noted that if a customer was to incur these charges before they are finalised, they would likely be entitled to a rebate if the charges are finalised at lower rates.

These will be benchmarked against other utility companies.

The committee’s chair, Labour TD Michael McCarthy, questioned how, “in the name of all that is good”, a person receiving €188 in social welfare per week was going to do if they have to incur a call-out charge.

McGowan said CER’s priority is to set efficient costs.

“We don’t have the legal remit to take affordability into account,” he stressed, noting that it was a matter for Government.

Representatives of CER said that Irish Water’s controversial bonus structure does not come under their remit.

“We don’t manage Irish Water, we regulate Irish Water,” McGowan said, “We set global targets for them to achieve.”

How they spend their money to achieve those targets… is up to the management themselves.

“We don’t get into that, nor we do offer an opinion.”

McGowan defended the delay in finalising the first-fix policy. He said this could cost in the region of €51 million, and so needed to be carefully analysed.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said he found it “unbelievable” that the charges had not yet been finalised.

McGowan also explained to the committee why the allowance for children was reduced, after the Government originally set it at 38,000 litres.

This was based on a decade-old study from Scotland, and was looking at the highest level of consumption.

The 21,000 was arrived at after a study of 3,000 households between October 2013 and August 2014 – ‘the best available data’.

He said the same goes for the adult allowance.

CER hopes that as Irish Water’s cost base decreases, the charge to the customer will be brought down to as low a level as possible.

The utility has been set a target to reduce its cost base by 7% per year.

The committee’s chair, Labour TD Michael McCarthy, signalled at the start of today’s session that they will be asking the board of Ervia to appear before the committee to discuss issues surrounding management and bonuses.

Originally published 4.12pm

Read: 10 Irish Water customers had their bank details sent to their landlords >

More: ‘You can protest, but you can’t stop them.’ – Judge to water meter protesters >

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Nicky Ryan

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