Regulator says high call-out charges fees will be reduced

Irish Water will be forced to reduce the exorbitant call-out fees it wants to charge householders with service and supply problems after the energy regulator expressed concern about how high they had been set.

The regulator also stressed that the fees — which start at €188 for a daytime call-out — had not been approved and said anyone charged them would get a rebate of the excess they paid when the new fees were determined.

“We have expressed concern,” Paul McGowan, senior official with the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), told the Oireachtas environment committee. “We have not signed off on any call-out charges.”

He also clarified that householders were not restricted to calling Irish Water to deal with problems and could use any plumber of their choice.

“This is not requiring a customer to use Irish Water when they would normally use somebody else. They can continue to use somebody else.”

Fees will not be finalised until at least April of next year as the regulator is seeking more information from Irish Water and will use this to hold a public consultation to determine what levels of fees are justified.

The regulator is to move faster on the issue of extending the deadline for customers to register, saying a decision would be made by the end of this week on whether to push it out to the end of November.

Later registration would mean a later first bill, giving a brief reprieve for customers who would expect their initial demand at the end of January or early February rather than in the aftermath of Christmas as is currently planned.

Mr McGowan was part of a delegation from the CER called before the committee to answer questions about its oversight of Irish Water’s tariffs, costs, and customer service.

Committee members heard that Irish Water’s projected running costs of €2.08bn were too high and the regulator, who has already imposed an 8% reduction this year, would continue to seek 7% annual reductions over the next few years.

They also heard that householders were being charged the same for water supply as wastewater treatment because the regulator was still gathering data to establish what the true breakdown of costs were.

CER official Cathy Mannion said the 50-50 charging system could change to 60-40 if the supply of treated water was found to cost more than the removal of waste water, meaning customers with wells or septic tanks who only used one service from Irish Water would ultimately get a bill more accurately reflecting the cost of that service.

The meeting was told that Irish Water were setting up a 24-hour contact centre following complaints that they could not be contacted after office hours. The company is also conducting a pilot study of 800 households with leaks to establish how its “first fix free” policy for the first reported leak on any property will work.

The results of the study are due next month and the policy is to come into effect in January.

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