Irish Water debt measures brought before Cabinet

Debt-enforcement measures will today be brought to the Cabinet table to deduct unpaid water charge bills from people’s welfare payments, pay packets, and from tenants’ deposits.

The measures, which were flagged earlier this year, will allow Irish Water go after households who have the ability to pay bills but are unwilling to do so.

The Civil Debt Procedure Bill will see attachment orders to people’s earnings replace imprisonment as a final form of sanction against people who are refusing to pay bills.

This will allow companies such as Irish Water to deduct people’s welfare payments or earnings.

Government sources last night stressed that the measure would only be used as a last resort where debts have not been paid.

“There is a distinction between those who won’t pay and those who can’t. If someone is not paying and they have the means, but making no effort, there will be an attachment order issued by a court,” one source said.

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Amounts deducted from any welfare payments will be limited, due to the fact that there is a restriction on what can be deducted to ensure claimants have enough for day-to-day living.

It remains unclear if Irish Water will apply for each individual attachment order and when the debt-enforcement procedure will actually come into force.

The measures for deducting welfare and earnings are being drafted on the back of a Law Reform Commission report in 2010. Among other recommendations, it proposed abolishing imprisonment for non-payment of debt, even for those who ‘can pay’.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will bring a memo to her cabinet colleagues on the plan.

Separate proposals will be discussed at the cabinet table today on how tenants who refuse to pay their water bills could have unpaid amounts deducted from their deposits.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly wants to address concerns from landlords that they will get lumped with unpaid bills. However, those property owners also warn that they will not become collectors for Irish Water.

Sources last night said the measures would address the issue about who is liable for charges where a property is being rented.

Moves to restrict people’s water if bills are unpaid were dropped by the Coalition last year. Instead a discount or conservation grant is being given to all households.

Mr Kelly has already said that households who fail to register by the end of June will not be entitled to claim this €100 grant, due next September.

Bills to some 1.5m households have begun arriving in recent weeks. Irish Water said around two-thirds of customers have registered for charges.

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