Plan to use agencies to collect water debts

Households that failed to make last night’s deadline for registering with Irish Water will not face any extra penalties for doing so, but the utility company warned that anyone failing to make long-term payments could be targeted by debt collection agencies.

Plan to use agencies to collect water debts

Environment Minister Alan Kelly described the deadline for registration as “an administration date for Irish Water”, and “not a drop-dead date”.

For its part, Irish Water said there were no additional penalties for anyone who did not register, while it invited anyone still to contact them to do so to ensure they can begin the process of claiming a water conservation grant.

Anyone who did not register by last night faces a default bill of €260 spread across the year, but Irish Water said anyone who registers in the near future will still be in line to have that bill recalculated and a rebate paid at a future billing period.

Anyone applying for the water conservation grant must do so in a separate process with the Department of Social Protection, with details as to that deadline expected later in the year. The rebate is due to be paid to eligible households in September.

The first quarterly bills will be issued in early April and Mr Kelly reiterated that no one would have their water cut off for a failure to pay, but he did warn that proposals will be published towards the end of February regarding ways of retrieving money from consistent non-payers in future.

Speaking yesterday on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke, Elizabeth Arnett, head of communications and corporate services at Irish Water, said the company would have to look at the possibility of debt collection agencies being used if required in future.

“We will do what every normal utility does — we will pursue the debt,” she said.

Penalties of €30 for individual adult households and €60 for other households will be applied to those who fail to make any payments over the course of the first year of the charges. Any future debt collection is only likely to kick in after that point has been reached.

Irish Water estimates that there are 1.5m potential customers around the country, with 1.065m having either registered already (869,000 people as of lunch time yesterday) or otherwise had ‘validated’ their application, which in practice meant indicating that they are operating off a private well or are part of a private water scheme and therefore do not need a meter installed.

That leaves an estimated 435,000 people who, as of last evening, still had not registered.

However, the Anti-Austerity Alliance accused Irish Water of underestimating the total number of houses who need to register.

The party cited a CSO report, Roof Over Our Heads, published following the 2011 census, which claimed that 84.4% of the 2m homes they surveyed at the time were connected to either a mains water supply or a local authority group water scheme, and therefore liable to become Irish Water Customers. The Anti-Austerity Alliance claimed that this meant 1.78m potential Irish Water customers, not 1.5m.

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said: “Irish Water are understating their potential customer base by 260,000 houses or 15% in order that they can claim that over 50% of households have registered.”

Irish Water said 30,000 people registered over last weekend and the firm has installed 869,000 meters. It expects to have 1.3m meters installed by the end of next year. However, it said it could not say how many people who have registered also already have a meter.

Irish Water said it will invest over €420m his year in improving water services.

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