Households which ‘excessively use’ or waste water will be given a year to reduce their consumption before they face being fined, under plans to be approved by Cabinet tomorrow.
Up to 80,000 customers who are likely to use more than the permitted annual allowance face being fined up to €260, it is believed.
The Irish Examiner has learnt that Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is to bring a memorandum seeking approval for the scheme which will see the way cleared for a charging regime to be introduced from 2020.
Clearly apprehensive about the potential impact the introduction of charges may have on the eve of local and European elections, the Government is taking a hands-off approach over chasing those who waste water.
“It is the Government’s goal that it is only people who continuously and wilfully waste water that will be in the focus of fines,” a senior source said.
“You will get a letter to say you are way over your allowance, and if after a set period of time, your behaviour does not change then fines will kick in,” the source added.
Under the plans, customers found to be using more than the 213,000 per household allowance will be contacted by letter and given up to 12 months to fix a leak if it exists or reduce their consumption to avoid fines.
While the final details in relation to the charges are to be worked out and approved by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities as well as to the range of exemptions from charges. The commission will seek submissions before it makes its final determination on fines which are to kick in from next year. It is understood that the sending of letters to excessive users will start after the first set billing period and if consumption has not reduced a year from that fines will kick in.
“The allowance is based on a four-person household. There are obviously households which are bigger than that and there will also be medical exemptions,” said the source.
Should a leak be discovered, homes will be able to avail of Irish Water’s ‘first fix’ scheme, which under the plan is to be substantially enhanced according to the plans to be presented to ministers.
However, those customers who do not have a leak and who are above the threshold will be liable for charges.
At present, despite many water and wastewater treatment plants operating at maximum capacity, an estimated 7% of domestic water customers use more than 1.7 times average household demand.
Irish Water and the Department of Housing have estimated €39m will be raised by way of excessive domestic charges by 2024 at which stage it is expected to raise €9m a year.
However, sources have stressed the purpose of the fines regime is not to raise revenue but to promote conservation. “Our hope will be that no one is charged”, said one senior source reflecting the political sensitivity around the issue of charges.
In 2017, the Government made the assumption that the average four-person household uses 125,000 litres of water a year. To ensure as few people as possible would exceed any limit set down, the Government decided to grant an allowance per household of 213,000 litres per year, or 1.7 times the actual amount used.
Irish Water’s latest report shows of the volume of water entering the system, 608 million litres in 2017, 273 million litres were lost to leaks. The Government agreed on a new funding arrangement for Irish Water in 2017, based on the report of the Working Group on the Future Funding Model for Irish Water.
Under the new funding model, Irish Water is being funded in respect of domestic water services by the Exchequer for capital and current purposes (€1.1bn in 2018, of which €500m is capital) with investment in relation to the non-domestic sector being funded through charges and borrowings.