More than 70,000 households could face prosecution and fines for wasteful use of water, the Oireachtas committee on water charges has proposed.The 20-member committee has agreed a draft report on the future of the levies, which envisages the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) setting a figure for normal usage of water.The Irish Times
reports that households using 70 per cent more than that limit could face financial penalties, the rate of which will be decided by the regulator. It is understood the CER will set the average allowance of 127 cubic meters meaning the figure for wilful waste will be 215.9 – 1.7 times normal usage.
However, committee members insisted a number of processes would have to be completed before a system of fines commences.
The committee was told 71,000 of the State’s 2.2 million households (8 per cent) account for 32 per cent of the State’s water use and these properties could be liable for the excessive use charges.
Irish Water will notify individual householders by post if it suspects there is a wilful wasting of water. An examination will then be carried out to assess if there is a reason for the above average usage such as a leak.
If a medical condition is the reason for excessive use, the State will be asked to introduce a scheme of waivers and if it is a leak, financial assistance would be offered to homeowners. If neither apply, a householder will be given six months to reduce their water consumption or face prosecution.
Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin said the number of people who this will apply to is minimal and will produce little revenue for the State.
“The majority of these would be exempt from any penalty either due to exemptions or leak detecting and remedy,” he said. “In all likelihood penalties would only apply to a tiny number of households who continue to allow large volumes of water to be wasted even when it is brought to their attention.” Fair system
The Oireachtas committee’s decision is a row back for Fine Gael, which had argued against prosecutions and for an excessive charge.
A party spokesman said Fine Gael’s aim was to ensure a fair charging system was in place and he said that would be achieved by fining those responsible for excessive water usage.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members brought the findings of the report to their parliamentary party meetings yesterday. A final report will be prepared for committee members on Monday and discussions on it will take place on Tuesday.The final report will include measures to refund householders who paid their water charges but said the decision on repayment must be made by the Government.
Normal usage will be funded through general taxation but the tax must be identifiable to ensure Ireland meets the obligations of European law.
On the area of metering, the State will no longer sponsor a metering programme. The committee agreed to district metering being used to determine excessive usage. It says individual householders could voluntarily take up a domestic water meter and the committee recommends the Government examine how best to incentivise this while bulk metering would be used for multi-unit developments such as apartment blocks.
The committee also recommends a referendum be held to enshrine Irish Water in public ownership.
The members said those on group water schemes should have the same financial support offered to those on public water scheme.
The final report will be sent to the Dáil for April 14th for a vote. It does not include a figure for how much the proposals will cost the State.