FactCheck: Does every other country in Europe have water charges?

Fine Gael TD Seán Barrett made the claim over the airwaves recently. Is it true?


Updated at 9.20pm

WITH THE EXPERT Commission on water already beginning its work, Sinn Féin forwarding a motion in the Dáil to abolish water charges last week, and Fianna Fáil changing its policy, the issue remains nearly as close to the top of the political agenda as ever.

And during a conversation on last Tuesday night’s Late Debate on RTE Radio One, Fine Gael TD Seán Barrett underscored his support for funding our water system through domestic charges.

He claimed: “Every other country in Europe has water charges”.

Is that true?

(Remember, if you hear a big claim on a big issue, email or tweet @TJ_FactCheck).

What was said: / YouTube

You can listen to an excerpt of the debate above, but for our purposes, we’re interested in this statement:

We have struggled, from [1977] until now, to try and get back to a situation where we could have direct payment for water, so that we could preserve or conserve water, like every other country in Europe has water charges…

The Facts

We asked Fine Gael and Seán Barrett’s office for evidence to support the claim. In response, Fine Gael directed FactCheck to news articles about the 2014 Global Water Intelligence Annual Tariff Survey.

For the most up-to-date information, we obtained a copy of the 2016 report, which was published last week.

It surveyed the amount paid for water and waste water by a family of four using 15 cubic meters of water per month, in 384 cities across the world.

Unfortunately, we can’t reproduce the report in full, but we can confirm that out of 95 European cities (85 of them in the EU) only Belfast did not have domestic water charges in place.

We can also share the following figures for 30 major cities throughout the EU, representing 27 out of the 28 EU member states:

For a full-size version of this chart, click here For a full-size version of this chart, click here

Malta is the only EU member state not represented in the Global Water Intelligence (GWI) figures.

However, we know that the charge in Malta for a household using 15 cubic metres per month (the GWI criterion) is €5.14 (or $5.73) per cubic metre, which would put Malta fourth in the GWI rankings.

This research was conducted on 1 July this year, before water charges were suspended in Ireland for the duration of the expert commission, so as of today, Ireland would join Northern Ireland as the only jurisdictions in the EU (and Europe) without domestic water charges.


Seán Barrett TD Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Seán Barrett’s claim was that “Every other country in Europe has water charges”.

However, Northern Ireland does not have domestic water charges. While water services are funded through regional and district rates (a kind of property tax), households do not pay directly and specifically for their water usage.

Allowing for the fact that Northern Ireland is a component of the UK, we rate this claim Mostly TRUE.

Correction: Due to an error, the verdict on this article was previously stated as ‘mostly FALSE’. It has been corrected now to the correct verdict of ‘Mostly TRUE’.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here.

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