Tánaiste Joan Burton has told the Labour Party that it would be “deeply problematic” to deduct dole from welfare claimants who are unwilling to pay water charges.
The Social Protection Minister made her comments last night at the private parliamentary party meeting where she answered queries from TDs and Senators about speculated new compliance measures.
She told members she did not know where the proposed measures had emerged from and that it would be very difficult to deduct people’s welfare.
Her comments came as Enda Kenny earlier said most people want to know if their neighbours are paying their Irish Water bills as he revealed sanctions for non-payment will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Mr Kenny’s comments come following an admission by Irish Water that the utility will issue thousands of bills to the wrong houses over the coming months.
He said legislation relating to those who do not pay the charge would come before Cabinet in the coming weeks and then before the Dáil.
A level of fairness in charging was needed, stressed the Taoiseach.
“The majority of people who have signed up as customers of Irish Water and will continue to sign up want to know that their neighbours, including the deputy, will make their contribution to the cost of production of quality Irish water in the coming years,” he said.
“There is a need for compliance and people to understand there will be equality in regard to compliance and that everybody who can pay should and will pay.”
Yesterday Irish Water’s head of communications, Elizabeth Arnett, said starting in mid-April the company would issue bills to the 1.52m households it services.
However, she also confirmed bills detailing charges incurred from January 1 to March 31 will be sent in error to houses not serviced by Irish Water.
“Nationwide there are approximately 400,000 people who have their own water service, be it a septic tank, a well or a group water scheme,” Ms Arnett said.
“Around 250,000 of those have responded to us, but 150,000 haven’t. We don’t know who they are, there is no database and so we need them to come forward.”
These households will be issued bills in the coming months, but will not be liable to pay the charges.
Ms Arnett said the number of homes with private water schemes is known due to figures from the Central Statistics Office, but that further analysis of these figures — such as which locations have the highest concentration of private water schemes — is not available to Irish Water.
Irish Water has said that two thirds of households it services have registered with the utility, but that some 500,000 have not.
These houses will face a default annual charge of €260. Ms Arnett said any household with queries should contact Irish Water, and that anyone who receives a bill in error and mistakenly pays it will be refunded.
Here's what your Irish Water bill will look like. pic.twitter.com/tIDtY16QAH— Joe Leogue (@JoeLeogue) March 25, 2015
Speaking in the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said potentially hundreds of thousands of bills would be sent to people who were not availing of services.
“In Enda land, we heard this morning that water charge bills will be issued by Irish Water to citizens who are not its customers. In Enda land, bills will also be issued to households which have undrinkable water, including those who have to boil their water. In Enda land, 150,000 properties with a private well and a septic tank will be billed by Irish Water.”
While the situation was laughable, it was causing “huge confusion and anger”, he said.
Mr Kenny responded that in “Gerry land” Mr Adams had only agreed to oppose charges recently when he heard the “sound of marching feet”.
He reiterated that the top charge per week would be €3 for a multi-adult household.
Irish Water Q&A - How the charges will work
Q: Irish Water is set to issue its first bills over an eight-week period starting in mid-April — what will I be charged?
A: Your charge will depend on two things — how many people live in your house and how much water you use. A household with two or more adults will pay a maximum of €260 a year if Irish Water provides both water and wastewater services to the house. This is capped at €160 a year for a single-adult household. These are the maximum charges, however, and Irish Water says it is possible to be charged less. Bills will be calculated based on a charge of €1.85 per 1,000 litres used. There will be an allowance of 21,000 litres free per child.
Q: What period will this bill cover?
A. The bill will cover January 1 to March 31 inclusive. It is one of four bills Irish Water will issue per year and so will be capped at a quarter of whatever annual maximum charge you qualify for.
Q: Will those on a private water scheme get bills?
A: They might, but shouldn’t. Irish Water says some 400,000 households are not customers of the utility. The problem is there is no database of these houses, and Irish Water says only 250,000 of these houses have contacted them. This means some 150,000 houses that shouldn’t be charged will get bills.
Q: So if these houses get a bill, what then?
A: They won’t be liable to pay and Irish Water says that those who accidentally pay will be refunded. The utility says houses that are not served by Irish Water will not receive bills from the company once it is notified.
Q: What about those who haven’t registered for Irish Water — will they receive bills?
A: Yes, and they will receive the maximum annual charge of €260 because Irish Water will not give any child allowances and assume the house in question has two or more adults living in it. Also, those who do not register by June 30 will not receive a €100 water grant that will be issued by the Department of Social Protection from September.
Q: What about those who don’t pay?
A: Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday legislation relating to this would come before Cabinet in the coming weeks and then before the Dáil. One method under consideration is legislation allowing for the charges to be recouped from wages or welfare payments.
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