Irish Water Q&A: How much does the utility have to raise and is the scheme feasible?

We answer some of the most common questions about Irish Water.

Irish Water Q&A: How much does the utility have to raise and is the scheme feasible?

Irish Water is in the news again — what now?

The utility has revealed how many people have paid their first Irish Water bill on time. Irish Water says it has received 46% of payments owed from its first billing cycle. These bills cover charges for the first three months of 2015. Irish Water says 675,000 households are paying water charges.

How much is that worth to them?

Approximately €30.5m has been generated from the payments received so far for the first billing period.

If they’ve received 46% of their payments, then they’re shy 54% — surely that’s left them short?

It certainly has — Irish Water says it is due €66.8m from this first billing period. This means it still expects over €36m from this billing cycle.

Does it have a target for how much it needs to raise, and how much is it?

Environment Minister Alan Kelly said the latest figures are “in line with expectations” but refused to tell Seán O’Rourke what those expectations, or future targets, were when he spoke on RTÉ Radio 1 yesterday.

“I expect whether that people will pay their bills and if they have issues with paying their bills, obviously Irish Water are going to engage with them and I’ve facilitated that and where people are refusing to pay there is compliance mechanism to ensure that everyone will pay their bills. And they are the targets,” he said.

However Elizabeth Arnett, head of communications and corporate affairs with Irish Water, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the utility has a target of €271m from domestic customers for 2015.

What else is Irish Water saying?

Unsurprisingly, Irish Water is putting out a positive message and says it’s a “solid start” — a phrase used by a few government ministers yesterday.

“Typically, in well- established UK water utilities, customers take an average of three months to pay a water bill,” said Ms Arnett. “No reminders have been issued to our customers and yet we have a payment rate that is broadly in line with what would be expected for a new utility sending out a new bill for the first time. This represents a solid start for Irish Water.”

Is the whole scheme now unfeasible?

That depends on who you ask — certainly opposition politicians were quickly out to ring the death knell for Irish Water yesterday.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said that Irish Water was “utterly deluding themselves if they think these figures represent a good start”.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said the “credibility of the Government’s water charges system and the Irish Water super quango is entirely shot through”.

He pointed out that if the current payment rate continued, Irish Water would generate €120m annual income, but that the Government is budgeted to pay out €130m in the water conservation grant and €25m is due in interest repayments on water meter loans.

“On this basis the Government will actually end up losing €35m because of water charges,” he said.

Mr Kelly disagreed and said the total “represents an encouraging start to a long-term project with in excess of €30m coming in immediately following the first billing period”.

“This now means that a significant income stream has now been established and multiples of that funding can be converted into borrowing. This will allow for significantly increasing the investment in upgrading our water system, without eating into the spends of housing, education or the health system,” he said.

If I’ve registered and not paid, what happens now?

Nothing for now. Irish Water says it will send reminder letters. But there will be no penalties until after at least a year of unpaid bills.

If, by the time a fifth bill arrives, Irish Water still hasn’t been paid, it will charge an extra €60 on a two adult household and €30 on a single person household.

But until those fifth bills arrive sometime in 2016, there will be no consequences for not paying.

Under legislation customers cannot be taken to court and forced to pay their charges until at least seven unpaid bills have passed — by which time it would be 2017. People must have unpaid water bills of at least €500 before they are taken to court for debts to be deducted from salary, welfare or pensions.

Opposition parties have highlighted that those fifth bills are due after the next general election.

How do I qualify for the €100 conservation grant?

If you registered for Irish Water by June 30, you qualify for the €100 grant. It will be administered by the Department of Social Protection.

The department said it would be communicating with people from the middle of August and inviting them to apply for the water conservation grant.

How much is that going to cost the State?

Some 1.3m houses are set to qualify for the grant —meaning it will cost €130m. However, the Department of Social Protection has previously warned that it will require additional resources to administer the grant.

What happens if I have a private water source?

Not much — you owe Irish Water nothing, but you still qualify for the €100 grant.

How many water meters have been installed?

According to Mr Kelly, Irish Water has installed over 720,000 meters to date.

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