Delay to water bills as just half sign up

Households look likely to get a brief reprieve in paying their first water charge bills as figures show that less than half of homes have so far signed up with Irish Water.

The first water bills for households could now be delayed by a month after a request by Irish Water for extra time to get people to hand over their personal details.

The energy regulator is set to announce on Friday that people will be given the extra month — until the end of November — to return their packs to Irish Water and “validate” their details.

Regulator commissioner Paul McGowan told the Oireachtas environment committee yesterday that this later registration would have “the knock-on effect” of a later first bill.

It means householders would pay their first water charges at the end of January or possibly in early February rather than immediately after Christmas, as is planned.

The later date will also help facilitate the allocation of allowances for customers in their first bill.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly told the Dáil last night that 750,000 responses, the majority from registering customers, will have been received by Irish Water by the end of the week. Irish Water plans to service 1.5m homes.

Mr Kelly will meet Irish Water managing director John Tierney this morning, when he will also press the company boss to face the public and their concerns.

The minister last night also told RTÉ’s Prime Time it was “absolutely unacceptable” that Irish Water mistakenly passed on personal bank details of a number of customers to landlords.

Earlier, during a debate on water charges, he said he would ask Irish Water’s new board to review controversial pay bonuses that staff are set to receive next year.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said earlier that Irish Water staff who under-performed should not get pay bonuses. He also said he had “every confidence” in Mr Tierney and that the latter was not to blame for the bonus system. There had been speculation in recent days that Mr Tierney could be sacked after a board meeting yesterday of Ervia, the parent company of Irish Water.

A new board, amalgamated from both companies, will be decided next month.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet yesterday discussed the latest controversy surrounding charges and agreed improvements needed to be made on how the company communicated with the public.

The energy regulator also told TDs yesterday that Irish Water was working on setting up a 24-hour contact centre following complaints that it could not be contacted after office hours.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea said he had encountered “incoherent gibberish” when he rang a phone line. He added that he would not give his PPS number to Irish Water.

Ahead of a nationwide protest against water charges on November 1, Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged to make further improvements.

However, despite the reassurances, frustrated backbenchers continue to criticise Irish Water.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell last night said the board should be stood down a month earlier than envisaged.

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