Homes with normal levels of water usage should not be charged and special tariffs should only be applied to households using wasteful amounts, the long-awaited expert water commission reports says.
The report recommends that the metering programme — previously subject to widespread protests — continues with a focus on installing units in apartment blocks.
A general free water allowance should be agreed for normal water usage, says the commission, but this could change depending on inputs from the energy regulator and public water forum.
The commission, chaired by former Labour Court chairman Kevin Duffy, has now given its 65-page report with recommendations to the new Oireachtas Committee examining the future of water charges.
Overall, the expert commission looking at the future funding of services has recommended that the “vast majority of consumers will not have to pay direct charges” for water.
The funding of water services for normal domestic and personal use should be out of taxation, it says, while special exemptions should be made for homes where there are medical conditions or other needs. In assessing what is normal usage for households, the report says “the standard uses for domestic water consumption relate to personal washing, toilet flushing, drinking, cooking, clothes washing, dishwashing, waste disposal, and house cleaning.”
The decision on what the free water allowance should be relates to “the number of persons resident in the household,” it adds. However, it remains unclear what this allowance would be and any decision on that in the future could be subject to huge debate on what constitutes daily usage.
The report paves the way for a future referendum on keeping Irish Water in public ownership, depending on what the Oireachtas or government concludes.
A number of submissions urged that the “alienation of Irish Water out of public ownership be made constitutionally impermissible” and the expert commission agrees with this.
While there are fears that charges for excessive water use could lead to fresh charges via the back door, the report says: “Excessive or wasteful use of water will be discouraged by charging for such use and therefore is consistent with the ‘polluter pays principle’.”
Despite the recommendation that normal usage is essentially covered by general taxation, the report leaves the door open on other means of paying for services.
“Additional mechanisms should be considered to ensure that the necessary finance is guaranteed,” it says.
Irish Water should also commit to the provision of extensive open-access data, for research purposes and so that consumers can easily monitor and manage consumption.
It is recommended that a much more proactive approach be taken to promoting domestic water conservation measures in Ireland.
The report also states that Irish Water can play a key role in this regard not only through educational and information campaigns but also through providing advice and access to water conserving devices.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney last night said he hoped the report would “put to bed” issues around water charges. He denied the recommendations essentially put a “nail in the coffin” for charges. The solutions offered by the commission would ensure that taxpayers do not pay for “wastage” he told RTÉ news.
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