Tougher penalties for non-payment of water charges

Tougher penalties for people who refuse to pay water charges have been signalled by Environment Minister Alan Kelly.

Legislation that could see unpaid water charges deducted at source from people’s salaries, or social welfare payments, has emerged as a live option.

This is believed to include a ‘poverty clause’ intended to distinguish between those who cannot pay and those who will not pay.

Those able to prove financial hardship would be given longer to pay back back debts, under the proposals, while those deemed deliberate ‘dissenters’ would have payments deducted via attachment orders, similar to ones used regarding the property tax. A department spokesperson said all options were being considered.

Mr Kelly insisted that the Government would not be influenced by the mass street protests of the weekend and would press on with imposing the levy.

With the first bills set to be issued within weeks, Mr Kelly said people who refuse to pay the charges out of principle will have to be treated in a harsher way than those who are unable to due to financial difficulties.

Mr Kelly said he would be bringing the penalties’ regime — including details of how landlords will be involved in the process — to Cabinet soon, as he denied claims the Government had not got its act together on the issue.

When he replaced Phil Hogan as environment minister in July, Mr Kelly tried to adopt a less confrontational approach to non-payers. He abandoned Mr Hogan’s previous threat to reduce the water supply to a “trickle” to householders that had not paid their bills.

However, Irish Water can still pursue non-payers through the courts system and have charges imposed on properties. Such a charge against a property would bar it from being sold until the payment was made. With one-third of households still not registered for the charges, opponents hope a mass boycott could force the Government into further concessions.

Irish Water has said action will only be taken once a bill has been outstanding for at least a year, and where household has refused to take part in a repayment programme.

Mr Kelly said he would not dismiss the weekend protests but that the public “are now coming with us” on the issue of water charges.

Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger accused the Government of arrogance and called on people to bin their bills at a gathering outside the Dáil on April 18 to show defiance.

“The march on Saturday was massive, for the Government to try and dismiss it would be a mistake. The real numbers game will centre around payment of the bill and every household is going to be confronted with that question.

"On penalties we will now have to see if the Government are going to change the law for a third time, their only other option is to impose heavy fines, let’s see if they dare to change the law,” Ms Coppinger said.

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