Government could face €144m in water charge repayments

The Government faces a €144m bill if it decides to pay back water charges after figures show the utility took €33.4m in payments this year before the payments were axed.

The figures, published by Irish Water, show it has taken in a total of €144.2m in charges across four different billing cycles.

Despite the general election result in February casting immediate doubt on the future of water charges, there was a net drop of just 2,000 in the number of people scrapping their direct debit payments to the utility in the first three months of the year.

While 8,000 customers — 4% of all those paying by direct debit — dropped their payments in the first quarter of the year, another 5,850 signed up to direct debit payments.

However, anti-water charge TD Paul Murphy claimed as many as one fifth of customers may now have stopped paying charges. He compared the percentage of customers who cancelled direct debits in the latest quarter with the 21% drop in Irish Water’s revenue which he said showed other customers have stopped paying their bills.

“The figures don’t account for the full reduction in bills being paid,” said Mr Murphy, claiming customers who do not pay by direct debit and instead pay by cash had in fact cancelled their bills.

The figures also show that 1m households have arrears with Irish Water, said Mr Murphy, who said those customers should have their bills scrapped.

Revenue received during the fourth billing cycle was €33.4m, compared to €42.3m in the third cycle, €38m in the second, and €30.5m in the first billing cycle.

It adds up to €144.2m, which could end up being repaid. The figure represents 53% of the total income due from domestic charges during 2015.

In addition, there was still uncertainty yesterday over whether another water conservation grant will be issued this year.

A spokesperson for Irish Water said payments received through all payment channels fell during the month of March but that it was unable to provide information regarding the steep fall in revenue, as when a customer makes a payment it is credited to their oldest bill.

“Some customers choose to pay one bill, or part of a bill while other customers pay multiple bills together,” said the spokesperson.

“Some payments made during the bill cycle 4 may have been payments from bill cycles 1, 2, or 3 or all four bills.

“Irish Water understands that legislation allowing for the suspension water charges is due to be before the Dáil in June. Once we have further clarity in relation to what is required under legislation, we will update our customers.”

The figures come ahead of a Dáil motion being brought next week by anti-water charge TDs who want charges abolished and Irish Water closed down. An anti-water charge protest outside the Dail is also scheduled to take place later this month.

Irish Water has approximately 1.52m customers. Some 830,000 meters have been installed, but the current metering programme is due to wind down later this year, by which time about 90% of domestic water meters will be in place.

A spokesperson for Irish Water said: “No further large-scale metering is proposed at this stage but we will be renewing our current framework for the purchase of water meters as the current one is due to expire.”

That does not mean a commitment to buy more meters, however. The spokesperson said: “This is not a plan or a commitment to buy a specific number of meters but will ensure that any that are purchased during the next four years are at best value for money and have been purchased in full compliance with public procurement guidelines.”

Irish Water said the issue of whether or not a water conservation grant would be issued this year was a decision for government.

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