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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 22 May, 2019
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Still have questions about water charges? You might find the answers here

We asked, they answered (mostly).

AFTER MANY MONTHS in the headlines, and amid a series of controversies and mass street protests, questions still abound about how exactly water charges will work.

Setting aside, for a moment, arguments about the fairness of the system, there is still uncertainty about how Irish Water will operate in certain scenarios.

Previously, the utility has been forced to clear up stubborn operational questions about landlord/tenant arrangements, and bonuses for their staff, for example.

TheJournal.ie compiled a small selection of persistent questions, and put them to Irish Water – here’s what they told us.

4248407736_cb25f8a905_z Source: Rob Ellis via Flickr

What exactly happens if you don’t pay?

Irish Water still hasn’t clearly answered this crucial question. They told us: “This will be approached on a case by case basis.”

Medical conditions

This is still an extremely messy one.

If you have a medical condition that requires high consumption of water, you won’t have to pay extra for it.

But there is no clear list of medical conditions that qualify – essentially, there is an “honour system.”

You declare yourself in the “vulnerable customer” section of the validation form.

However, Environment Minister Alan Kelly told the Dáil on 7 October that Irish Water “may selectively audit” these claims, “to ensure that the scheme is not subject to abuse.”

Under such an investigation, the customer would be asked to produce “supporting evidence from a medical practitioner,” the Minister said.

We asked Irish Water: How long will a customer get to give that evidence, and could they face fines, retroactive payments, or even legal proceedings if it’s decided that their medical condition claim was unfounded or fraudulent?

Irish Water said: “There are no plans in place for selective auditing. This would be a matter for Government.”

TheJournal.ie asked for clarification on this from the Department of Environment, but we haven’t yet received a response.

Changing your address, and shared custody

File photo: Water charges are looming Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

If an application pack isn’t delivered to where you live, do you have to pay charges?

They didn’t directly answer this question, but said: “Irish Water is currently advising people if they haven’t received an application pack to contact Irish Water on 1850-448-448.”

Are customers obliged to notify Irish Water if they change address? Or will Irish Water be keeping track of who uses water at which address?

If you move house, it’s up to YOU to tell Irish Water, and “update [your] account details.”

Where a parent shares custody of a child, can they avail of the child allowance, even if their address is not the child’s permanent or primary address?

Although they didn’t explicitly rule it out, it doesn’t look like it: “The free allocation of water to children applies to the primary residence of the child.”

PPS Numbers, privacy, and cyber-security

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If a customer sends in their PPS number to avail of allowances, but changes their mind later, how does that private information get removed from the Irish Water database?

“Customers can contact Irish Water at any time and can withdraw from receiving the allowance,” they said.

According to Irish data protection law, there are eight basic rules for a body possessing or using personal data. One of them is “You must retain it no longer than is necessary for the specified purpose or purposes.”

Irish Water recently told us that they would hold on to your PPS number for as long as you’re claiming an allowance (either the household or child allowance).

If you were only claiming the child allowance, once the child turns 18 and they’re no longer eligible for it, Irish Water will automatically take your PPS number off its system, they said.

In general, the utility says:

In accordance with data protection requirements, Irish Water will not hold personal data that is not required for the administering of accounts or providing water services.

For customer service – which will obviously involve the use of PPS numbers – Irish Water has contracted out this work to a company called Abtran.

So we asked: What steps has Irish Water taken to ensure PPS numbers are not shared by private contractors like Abtran?

They are legally bound not to. “As an Irish Water contracted agent, Abtran has entered into a confidentiality agreement with Irish Water.”

Has Irish Water tested its cyber-security systems for data breaches?

They told us: “All Irish Water systems are secure to the ISO-27001 standard and regular external audits are run to ensure standards of security.”

ISO/IEC 27001 is an information security standard certified by the ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation), and is regarded as international best practice.

Any more questions?

1362197058_tumblr_m4xatayEqL1qirazwo1_500 Source: Rock Genius

Of course there are.

First, though, have a look through our coverage of Irish Water and water charges, as well as the Questions and Answers section of Irish Water’s website, just in case.

If you still can’t find an answer, let us know in the comments section below.

We’ll do our best to pass on your queries to Irish Water, and we’ll let you know what they told us.

Read: I rent my home, who pays for my water?>

I’m a landlord, and my tenant won’t pay water charges … Who’s liable?>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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