Proof of illness may be sought to cut water bill

People who seek reduced water charges on health grounds may be asked to provide evidence of their medical needs and could face an audit if their usage is too high.

The plans were outlined by Environment Minister Alan Kelly in a letter to the Commission for Energy Regulation.

His letter warns of potential abuse of the system whereby exemptions based on medical need are self-declared.

He also says people will have to repay any money owed if they are found out to have claimed free water when they didn’t in fact need it on health grounds.

As part of its public consultation on the charges, the regulator received 44 submissions requesting capped charges for people with medical conditions.

Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital said it is of “great concern” that parents might “under-treat” children with skin conditions because of water costs.

It said eczema affects 15% of the population and all siblings in a family may be affected.

Such people, along with sufferers of psoriasis and other skin conditions, need frequent bathing.

Failure to properly treat the conditions impacts on quality of life, leads to disease persistence, and greater costs to the health service in the long run, it said.

Cystic Fibrosis Ireland said its patients have high toilet usage, extra infection-control needs, and drink a lot of water. Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s were also frequently mentioned as needing higher water usage.

Some submissions wanted clarity that the extra €100 in the Household Benefit package — to help those with disabilities pay water charges — would last beyond 2016.

Under current plans, a householder only has to tick a box to say they have a medical condition and are charged the flat rate of €176 per year.

The minister said that it was “difficult to define” a clear list of conditions that would entitle someone to the capped charges.

Those seeking the cap should be informed that they may be asked for certification of their condition, Mr Kelly said.

“Top users may be audited to determine if there is other abnormal water use,” he added.

The minister said that asking people to prove their medical condition in advance of providing a waiver would have placed an extra burden on both the customer and the administrative system, which “may be disproportionate to the revenue foregone”.

He said that the current system should be kept until 2016 but that an “evidence- based system” should be introduced if there is “widespread abuse” of the current system.


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