Irish Water is heading for another headache as it emerges that just over half of non-domestic water charges are being paid.
Figures show local authorities collected on average only 55% of the payments due to them for supplying water to businesses and other non-domestic customers last year.
The best payers in the country were in the Cork County Council area where just under 77% of the amount owed was paid but 12 of the 33 local authorities collected less than 50% with Leitrim and Wexford performing worst getting only 35% and 37% of what was due.
Revenue from non-domestic customers totalled €185m in 2014. That figure is €45m short of what Irish Water says it needs to collect from the sector in 2015.
It also leaves up to €130m in bills unpaid, a situation the company will have to tackle head on. It is already uncertain about how much of the projected €300m in household water charges will materialise.
The company said while its focus was on the implementation of water charges for domestic customers, it was aware of payments that were outstanding among non-domestic customers.
“The debt fluctuates due to billing cycles and seasonal factors but at any given time would normally be in the range of circa €100m to 130m,” it said.
“Irish Water is liaising closely with local authorities in this regard to ensure collection is maximised.”
Mark Fielding, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises, said many businesses, already crippled by commercial rates, could not afford to pay their water bills. “So many small businesses have struggled over the last number of years. They prioritise paying their suppliers and other bills have to come down the pecking order.”
He said he would be watching closely Irish Water’s tactics in taking over the billing and collection of water charges, particularly as the utility was also planning to standardise tariffs nationally, with the likely consequence that some customers on below average tariffs will see bills increase.
“The actual standardisation of the water rates is something we will be looking at and especially if it comes in under Irish Water considering the way that they have carried on in the very short time they have been in business,” Mr Fielding said.
Mark O’Mahony, director of policy at Chambers Ireland, said his members would welcome full consultation from Irish Water on how it proposed dealing with its commercial customers.
“There is a lot of uncertainty among the business community as to where the non-domestic tariffs will go.”
Private group water schemes are also on non-domestic tariffs and Leitrim County Council said such schemes made up 52% of its total arrears. Irish Water said it could not comment further on how it would tackle arrears as its systems were a work in progress.