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Water charges: You get to keep the conservation grant, but 'excessive use' charges on the way

Water usage will be monitored from 2018, with bills arriving in 2019 for those that waste water.

IT’S BEEN A long road. But after three long years of protests and climb-downs, the government is to begin refunding water charges.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said yesterday that Irish Water customers, regardless of how they made their payment, will get cheques in the post by Christmas.

Depending on what people paid, it could be a cheque of up to €300.

In total, the government will hand back over €173 million in refunds, and it will cost around €5 million in admin costs to do so.

What about the water conservation grant?

Prior to Irish Water bills coming through the nation’s letterboxes, householders were urged to sign up to the water conservation grant of €100.

The government said the grant was a standalone, separate grant for all households whether they were Irish Water customers or not.

The minister said yesterday that it was separate from domestic water charges, and aimed at encouraging water conservation in the home.

While it had been flagged some months back that the water conservation grant might be deducted from any refunds given to householders, Murphy said this is not now possible.

The grant “was not linked to Irish Water charges”, he said, adding that the two databases are not held by the same agency. Therefore there are some cases where people who did not pay their water charges, but who claimed the grant, will have benefitted from a €100 pay out from the exchequer.

How much was paid out?

Figures released last year to Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen showed 887,010 householders – slightly more than half of those eligible – claimed their €100 grant. The total cost of the water conservation grant was €94 million.

“If I was to deduct the water conservation grant from the refund bill I would be penalising those who paid their bills,” the minister said yesterday. He said the Oireachtas committee’s report on water charges said everyone was to be treated equally “so I can’t do that”.

What happens with charges now?

While the minister said he hopes the legislation needed to bring about refunds is passed quickly, a new charging regime will kicks in in the new year.

“The monitoring of people’s use under the excessive charging regime will begin in 2018 and they will be monitored for a full year to the end of 2019.

“Those people who have been deemed by the company [Irish Water] to be using a wasteful amount of water above the excessive amount will then be notified at the beginning of 2019.

“They will be given a six month notice period by which they can reduce their use. f they haven’t done that by six months they will be then be charged for excessive wasteful use for that six month period,” he said.

The first charge will be levied in July 2019.

What is excessive usage? 

The Oireachtas committee on water charges said excessive usage should be based on 1.7 times the average household usage. It’s report set the average individual usage at 133 litres per person per day.

However, the minister said the Commission of Energy Regulation will actually determine the average consumption levels of a person per day, stating that it might be above the 133 litre figure.

The level will be finalised by the minister when he brings legislation to Cabinet next week.

The new laws will also have to provide for allowances in extraordinary circumstances such as medical conditions and above average household size.

While Fine Gael might be happy to see the back of this part in their history, the minister conceded yesterday that this new regime is not what his party want.

He said Fine Gael believed in the principle that people should pay for water. Murphy said the scrapping of the current water charges regime was one of the sticking points in the negotiations to form a government last year.

As a result, he said he has to put a process in place to refund charges and also discuss with the Minister for Finance the future mechanisms of funding Irish Water out of the exchequer.

“We would rather not do that. We believe there should be a consistent funding stream for domestic water users into Irish Water, not just for conservation purposes, but because it makes sense economically and we can’t do that now.

In the coming weeks as we get close to the Budget, you will hear politicians talking about spending money in different areas. Those same politicians who made a decision to cut off this funding stream. I am not happy to do it but we have to do it.

Confirmed: Irish Water to refund water charges to customers by Christmas>

Read: Government press office confirms establishment of Leo’s ‘strategic communications unit’>

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