The country’s largest trade union Siptu has called on the Government to defer charges for customers next year and find a different way to invest in water services.
The call comes as new figures from Irish Water show the huge volumes of calls it is getting, including from confused households and customers.
Almost a quarter of a million people have called the company helpline since the customer application campaign began in September.
In a statement, it said it had received 242,000 calls since September 1 and that the volume of calls remains “high”. Additional staff have also been put in place to answer calls, it said.
Last week, the company acknowledged that some customers had experienced lengthy delays but that the average length of a call was seven minutes.
Amid growing opposition and ahead of a national protest next Saturday, Siptu yesterday put pressure on the Coalition to defer charges until investment brings water quality to a “reasonable degree of acceptance”.
A refundable tax credit option for all customers was needed which would cover basic daily water needs, a union spokesman explained.
The union said if the Government did not adjust its approach that it would mount a campaign with other trade unions.
The energy regulator said yesterday that households will not have to pay their first water bills until next February after the deadline for people to register details was deferred by a month.
The validation period has officially been put back until the end of November. Irish Water also said that, due to postage delays, validation packs being returned would be accepted into December.
A decision on whether households will pay a flat rate for water charges for an extended period will be decided in the coming weeks.
Government TDs want the assessed rate, an average €278 a year, to be extended beyond next July for homes. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there would be clarity on this in the “next few weeks”.TDs say it would allow the company to complete all its metering of homes in Ireland and would make the system fairer for the whole country.
It has also emerged that the Coalition are examining if households where adult children live at home could be given some further allowance to ease costs.
There is also speculation the flat rate could be reduced, although Government sources played down this possibility last night. The issues are expected to be discussed by the Cabinet next week.
Enda Kenny said options to ease water costs were being considered:
“We recognise that there are some concerns that people have and we are working with Irish Water and Ervia to bring clarity to that situation and we hope that people will have confidence and see the range of affordability that applies,” he said.
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