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Water charges might be scrapped - so should we pay our bills?

It remains unclear whether billpayers will be refunded or non-billpayers will be pursued.

WATER CHARGES LOOK set to be suspended as part of the deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to set up a minority government, but what will that mean for people who have already paid their bills?

And what about those who haven’t?

The Dáil today heard statements on Irish Water and water charges, but uncertainty – among politicians and the public in general  - appears to be growing in relation to two key issues:

  1. If you paid your water bills, will you get a refund?
  2. If you didn’t, are you going to be pursued for money owed?

While the answers to these questions remain unclear (and, obviously, we can’t recommend a course of action) the statements set out below from the two parties brokering the deal will give you some indication of what might happen…

If you paid…

In January, Irish Water said that 928,000 customers (or 61% of its customer base) had paid their bill in at least one of the three cycles up to that point.

But TheJournal.ie reported in March that there had been a surge in customers cancelling direct debits since the general election, as the future of water charges and the utility itself was thrown into doubt.

1916 Easter Rising commemoration Source: Niall Carson

The agreement between the Civil War parties (which has yet to be signed off upon) will apparently see a suspension of charges while a commission of experts examines issues like alternative charging systems.

But it’s unclear whether those who paid their bills will be refunded if - at the end of this commission-led process – the Dáil votes to abolish charges.

Ask the experts 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton said bill-payers should get their money back, insisting:

We will defend to the hilt those who have paid their charges – it is a fundamental principle that those who do their civic duty in that way should be treated equally.

On the same programme, Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said the issue should be left for the commission of experts to decide.

But he agreed that in the event of water charges being scrapped, people who paid should get their money back.

However, last month Fianna Fáil’s environment spokesman Barry Cowen said that while axing the water charges was “imperative” for the party, they wouldn’t be able to give refunds.

We can’t change the law retrospectively, as much as we’d wish. We were not in government so we couldn’t stop this fiasco, as much as we tried.

This reflected the position of Fianna Fáil throughout the election campaign.

If you didn’t pay

Those who didn’t pay could be forgiven for imagining they won’t be pursued any further if water charges are suspended.

However, Bruton said those who have not paid their water charges will be fully pursued when a new charging system comes into place.

Irish unemployment figures Source: Brian Lawless

The acting jobs minister observed that as the law stands, no property can change hands until the water charges are cleared.

He also promised:

Those who were in default will have their bills pursued.

When that new system will come into place isn’t actually clear however.

Kelleher told Morning Ireland he could not put a time frame on how long charges would be suspended for.

So what’s the deal? 

For the moment it remains to be seen what action – if any – will be taken against those who did not pay their water charges.

Meanwhile, Irish Water says it has received “no final policy change” resulting from the current political talks.

When we are informed by government of any policy decisions that affect Irish Water or water charges we will assess the implications of those decisions for our customers, our operations and for our staff.

So for now, non-billpayers can probably expect a few more of these:

IMG_0080

Read: Minister says if water charges are scrapped, people who paid should get their money back

Read: Majority of Irish people support suspension of water charges

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