Irish Water silence on cancelled water payments

Irish Water has refused to provide figures on how many people have cancelled their direct debits with the firm since the Eurostat figures were revealed in July.

The utility declined to confirm any figures on the grounds that other firms such as the ESB would not be asked to do so, as it separately emerged that July’s Eurostat decision to keep Irish Water on the Exchequer books initially noted that “privatisation is ultimately envisaged”.

In a statement to the Irish Examiner amid recent claims by anti-water charge campaigners that thousands of people who paid their first bills are cancelling their direct debits due to the low levels of payment nationwide, an Irish Water spokeswoman said no figures will be made public.

The spokeswoman said that while “amending and updating payment details” is a “standard function of any utility”, the number of customers choosing to pay by direct debt is rising.

“While customers can alter their payment method from one bill to the next, the number of customers choosing to pay by direct debit continues to rise as a total figure and as a proportion of total customers,” said the spokeswoman.

When it was pointed out that a total figure or proportion of total customers calculation is not the same as the number of people who were paying by direct debit who have since cancelled these financial transfers, the spokeswoman said no specific figures would be provided.

Responding to the refusal to clarify the situation last night, a Right2Water spokesperson said there is a “lack of transparency” in Irish Water’s accounts and “in any democracy this information should be known”.

He said the campaign group is aware of a growing number of people who paid their first bill but are choosing to no longer pay because they do not believe the utility will survive, adding that Irish Water has an obligation to provide this information as it is “in a completely different political scenario” to other firms such as the ESB.

A separate controversy beset the under-fire utility yesterday after it emerged that July’s Eurostat ruling, which said Irish Water must continue to be on the Exchequer books, initially noted that “privatisation is ultimately envisaged”.

According to records obtained by The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act, the European statistics agency drew the conclusion in a preliminary letter it sent to the Central Statistics Office in July.

The correspondence said the highly controversial privatisation possibility could be allowed, although it added that infrastructure ownership could only be changed by a referendum.

The CSO responded in an email from its assistant director general, Jennifer Banim, who said that the conclusion was “incorrect” and needed to be removed.

“There are no statements by the Irish Government that privatisation is ultimately envisaged.

“I would ask that the sentence on privatisation be removed from the advice letter on the classification of Irish Water,” she said, adding that Eurostat’s view “was based on an incorrect interpretation of a particular paragraph in one of the documents provided”.

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