Hogan: Pay the water charge or be disconnected

People who don’t pay the water charge could face disconnection, Phil Hogan, the environment minister, indicated yesterday.

He said the new water bills should be treated just like any other utility bill.

“Anyone that doesn’t pay a utility bill will have to face the same regime that you have for electricity and gas at the moment,” he said.

“People do actually want to make a contribution to our economic recovery. They know that water is a very expensive and finite resource. And €1bn in their taxes is already spent to treat water. It’s not free, no matter what way they think.”

He made his comments as Irish Water confirmed it has appointed Cork-based business outsourcing specialists, Abtran, to operate its customer contact call centre, creating some 400 jobs.

The minister said a further 1,600 jobs will be created through the national water metering programme.

Abtran, which employs 1,100 people at its facility in Bishopstown, has won a five-year contract to operate the call centre to provide customer care to about 1.6m domestic and commercial public water users.

It will begin operations next month with about 100 people supporting the start of Irish Water’s national metering programme, and the development of a customer database ahead of the start of domestic billing.

By the middle of next year, a further 300 people will be employed in customer service roles, management positions, HR, and project management, with salaries starting from €20,000.

Abtran was embroiled in controversy two weeks ago when an employee was suspended over alleged attempts to fraudulently use the credit card details of householders calling about the local property tax.

Abtran CEO Michael Fitzgerald said they dealt with that isolated issue very quickly.

Winning the prestigious Irish Water contract — which involved beating competition from several international competitors — is a major endorsement of Abtran’s people and capabilities, he said.

The Government was due to introduce water charges on Jan 1, 2014, under the terms of the memorandum of understanding with the troika.

But it has indicated that it would like to defer the introduction of the charge for at least a year.

Mr Hogan said a decision on the exact date for the introduction of the charge will be made after talks with the troika conclude in a matter of weeks.

A decision on how much people will have to pay is also expected in a matter of weeks, following a detailed analysis by the regulator.

Dr John Tierney, the managing director of Irish Water, said the company is at a sensitive stage in contract negotiations for the delivery and installation of some 1m water meters.

He said contracts will be decided by Jul 11.

And he said he is confident that people will pay the charge.

“Rather than starting from a premise that people are not going pay, I think we should be starting from the premise that there is a substantial majority of people out there who will pay, and we need to build on that,” he said.

Cork Chamber chief executive Conor Healy welcomed the new jobs.

“Abtran is already a significant employer in the Cork region and the creation of an additional 400 jobs will undoubtedly have a substantial and welcome impact on local employment and result in wider positive gains for the local economy,” he said.


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