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Commission recommends that most households should get free water

Commission recommends that most households should get free water

Every household should get a free allowance of water that covers their ordinary domestic and personal needs, the commission on water charges has recommended.

It says that people who waste water should be hit with charges but not the average home. The report, which has been published this evening, is set to reignite the bitter Dáil debate over how to pay for the country’s water infrastructure.

“Each household that is connected to the public water supply receives an allowance of water and a corresponding allowance of wastewater that corresponds to the accepted level of usage required for domestic and personal needs without any direct charge being levied.

“This allowance should be related to the number of persons resident in the household and adjusted for special conditions,” the report says.

The Expert Commission believes at least two options can be considered:

(1)   The allowance could be computed to cover all of the normal domestic and personal usage for which water is typically required. These include personal washing, toilet flushing, drinking, cooking, clothes washing, dishwashing, waste disposal, and house cleaning.

(2)   An alternative approach that could be considered is to determine the level of water required for normal domestic and personal needs by reference to current household usage.

The report says a “detailed analysis” should be carried out to establish the precise levels of allowance to be made available.

The commission notes that there are good reasons why Irish Water should remain in operation but added that people need reassurance that it will stay in public ownership.

“It is also abundantly clear from our consultations and engagement with stakeholders that there is overwhelming support, including amongst political parties, for retaining Irish Water in public ownership. Nevertheless, as part of the overall approach to settling the issues addressed in this report, further measures are required to alleviate the concerns of those who believe that the eventual privatisation of Irish Water remains a possibility,” the report says.

It adds: “Accordingly, the Expert Commission recommends that the adoption of a suitable constitutional provision on public ownership of water services be more fully addressed by the Special Oireachtas Committee in its deliberations on this report.”

According to the expert commission the “vast majority of consumers will not have to pay direct charges for water” under the proposed new regime.

Existing special exemptions will be maintained for households catering for medical or other conditions that require high water usage.

“This proposed arrangement would ensure that the normal domestic and personal water requirements of all citizens are provided for by the State through taxation rather than by tariffs levied on individual households.

“Excessive or wasteful use of water will be discouraged by applying a tariff for such use and therefore is consistent with the ‘polluter pays principle’,” the report says.

It goes on to say that what is being proposed “does not amount to the provision of a ‘free allowance’ of water nor does it involve additional direct subsidies by the State to the water utility”.

“Rather, the water utility will provide sufficient water to all citizens to cover their domestic and personal needs, and the costs of providing that water will be recovered from the State, which will be a customer of Irish Water, based on tariffs approved by CER.”

Kevin Doyle