Fixed-rate water charges will hit 300,000 homes, says report

ABOUT 300,000 households will be slapped with a fixed-rate water charge — irrespective of the quantity of water they use.

A Department of Environment-funded report has for the first time estimated how many homes will be metered under the water charges scheme.

The research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that 1.35 million households would be on public water supplies when the system was up and running.

However, only 1.05m would be able to be included in a universal metering programme.

About 300,000 — including most of the apartments in the country — will instead have fixed water charges levied on them no matter how much or how little water they use.

The PwC report says: “The remaining households on public supplies, which would be either too expensive or technically difficult to meter individually initially (eg houses with shared service connections and houses in multi-occupancy premises such as apartment or flat complexes and gated communities) will have charges levied on a fixed basis.”

The Government has said households will get a “free allowance” for water usage but charged for consuming above a threshold.

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Phil Hogan confirmed that 300,000 households would get fixed water charges.

However, she said some exemptions from the charges were possible if a low rate of water consumption was achieved.

“The regulator will decide this based on average assessments of other homes under the metering system.”

Some apartment blocks may be able to have water meters installed outside them too, she said.

Up to 90% of households, which can be metered, will be metered by the end of 2014 at a cost of €500m.

Mr Hogan said yesterday that the rollout of the water metering programme would initially create up to 2,000 jobs. He said that once the system was in place, it could raise up to €600m, which would be put toward maintaining services.

Charges for domestic water users will not be known until a regulator decides on the matter.

The interim board of Irish Water, a new public utility company to oversee charges and the delivery of services, will be decided this year.

The full transfer of services and metering is expected to be complete by 2017.

The report on planned water services and charges found that operating costs for water services here were 50% to 100% more expensive than in Britain and the North.

Leakage levels are also double the British average.

Mr Hogan’s officials have dismissed as “speculative” claims that average household charges for water could be between €250 and €400 per year.

However, former Labour TD and now Independent Patrick Nulty said the planned €500m spend on installing water meters was a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Focusing investment in the water pipe network was a better idea, he said.

The department is seeking the public’s views on the scheme.

Metering scheme alternatives

THE Government considered alternatives to a metering scheme for water charges. Other options highlighted by PwC included:

* A universal fixed charge: This would raise revenue without water meters. However, this approach did not address concerns about the conservation of water or leakages.

* Opt-in approach: Households could choose to accept meters or a fixed charge. This would allow a more phased approach to metering and allow households choose how they want to pay. However, installation costs could be higher for “water conscious” users who opt for meters.

* Meter-specific classes of property: This included area-based metering or targeting areas with water scarcity. Metering could be targeted at newly built units which are meter ready or charging high-volume users. However, there would be “inefficiencies” in the overall cost of metering.

* Investment in water mains rehabilitation: Only 3.5% of fixing pipes and networks would be covered by using funds that would go to the metering system. This alternative focus would also only reduce leaks by about 5%. Mains rehabilitation does not address leakage issues or impact on consumer behaviour, the report said.

* Longer lead-in for metering: Rolling out a metering programme over 10 years, rather than the envisioned six, could see an average 100,000 households metered per year. Households would pay a fixed charge while the longer programme was being rolled out. However, there would still be about 500,000 households on a flat charge by 2021 under this scheme.


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